It seems that Benny Cunningham will forever be one of those players that flies under the radar. Last season when the Rams signed him after the draft I went on a writing spree trying to convince the world that he would make the final roster. Not only was I trying to convince everyone that he would make the roster, but that he would climb the depth chart as well.
My argument with Cunningham was that he is the most talented running back on the roster. As most will recall I was in love with the Zac Stacy pick in last year's draft. And I am still captain of the Stacy band wagon (not too late for applications if you still have not joined). But there is no denying special talent. And Cunningham is just that.
OVERLOOKED, AND PASSED ON, MADE THE MOST OF A TWO TEAM WORKOUT
Doing it all at a high level, he possess the ability to do everything required of a starting NFL running back. He has starter vision, balance, speed, agility, burst, and power. His most impressive traits are his third down ability and insane work ethic. He received nothing but rave reviews in scouting reports for 2013 about his work ethic. Those reviews were quickly proven to be accurate when he was able to bounce back from an injury that was predicted to require 12 months of rehab. When he ran his 40 for the Rams - and the Giants - four days before the 2013 NFL draft he was deemed 75 percent. He clocked a 4.51. There were reports that said he was running 4.38-4.42 prior to his injury. He was hurt in late October, and his leg was in a cast until late January. No way should he been able to clock a 40 that fast. Hard work paid off.
Cunningham is more than a speed specimen. He has loads of power and agility as well. Most importantly, it all translates to the field. He is also a good - if unspectacular - receiver out of the backfield. Best of all (especially for young backs) he can and will pass block. The truth is he brings it all to the table. I will say that Stacy still has him beat in the vision department, but there simply are not many backs in the NFL with Stacy's vision. I expect him to retain his starting job with ease.
TALENT COMBINED WITH A BIG TIME WORK ETHIC, GETS YOU CLOCK IN THE NFL
Cunningham has continuously made the most of every opportunity given to him in his extremely young career. He has managed to show off that burst and decisive running style, as well as his power to break and drag tackles. Quietly, Cunningham led the NFL in yards per rush (5.55) in 2013, for backs with at least 45 carries. Additionally, 23.4 percent of Cunningham's carries went for first downs. He saw eight of his 47 carries go for at least 10 yards. Two carries went for at least 20 yards while one went for 50+. In the preseason he managed 6.2 ypc, and four of his 20 carries went for at least 15 yards.
Benny Cunningham has proven to be a very explosive and powerful back. He is the rare breed where all the numbers tested translate to the field.
With the addition of Tre Mason the immediate assumption is that Mason will at the very least take over as the number two back. I disagree. Have we learned nothing? Draft status does not mean much with this team. The best man will play (i.e. Isaiah Pead, Brian Quick, etc..). Stay away from the hype train and trust your eyes. There is no denying, Benny Cunningham, is a starting caliber, NFL runningback, and Tre Mason is not, yet. He will eventually take over that role some time during the season. But make no mistake about it, Benny Cunningham will maintain his role, and will be the number two back and primary third down guy...