The 2016 Los Angeles Rams are pinning their hopes and dreams on one of their young running backs. That running back is Todd Gurley, but Benny Cunningham may have found himself in one of the best backup situations in the league.
As an UDFA coming out of Middle Tennessee State after the 2013 NFL Draft, Benny has seemingly continued to beat the odds managing to earn himself a second NFL contract this past offseason to remain with the Rams.
Cunningham has been the Rams primary kickoff returner for a few seasons now and ranks among the best return men in the NFL, ranking fourth in avg. yards per kick return for 2015 (28.6 yds) and fifth in 2014 (27.5 yds). Until the NFL actually outright eliminates kickoffs, Cunningham still holds great value for a sluggish offense with his return ability.
As a running back, Cunningham profiles as more of a receiving, third down running back. Other than Cunningham’s rookie season in 2013, he has yet to manage higher than a 3.8 ypc average for a season. In 2015, Cunningham only had 37 carries. Those came even with Tre Mason rapidly proving to become ineffective. Cunningham did lead the running back group with 36 targets and 26 recs for 250 yards. In 2014, Cunningham was third on the team in receptions (45) finishing with the fifth-most receiving yards (352) on the team.
Cunningham has tentatively moved into the top backup spot behind Just Todd Gurley on the RB depth chart with Tre Mason running into off field trouble and on field struggles. Chase Reynolds is back once again but likely as a special teams fixture. Second-year back Malcolm Brown could be Benny’s primary competition for carries. Aaron Green joined the team as an UDFA and was highly productive at TCU and could possibly also push Cunningham for carries.
Cunningham should once again get the nod as primary kick returner
As mentioned before, Cunningham will remain as the primary kickoff returner. Gurley should see more receiving work as the season progresses, but Cunningham has proven to be the most effective pass catching back on the roster and should remain involved on third downs.
Chances of Making Final Roster (9/10)
Head Coach Jeff Fisher uses and abuses running backs. If the Rams sense that kickoffs are on the verge of being all but eliminated, they could theoretically cut ties with Cunningham and hedge their bets on Gurley, Brown and Mason/Green.
Cunningham is still too effective as a receiving back to leave off a team starving for playmakers on offense.