|No. 41 – Houston Texans|
|Born:||December 2, 1994|
|Height:||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Weight:||238 lb (108 kg)|
|High school:||Pinson (AL) Valley|
|NFL Draft:||2017 / Round: 2 / Pick: 57|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics as of 2020|
|Player stats at NFL.com|
Zachary Daniel Cunningham (born December 2, 1994) is an American football linebacker for the Houston Texans of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Vanderbilt.
Cunningham attended Pinson Valley High School in Pinson, Alabama. During his high school football career, he had 448 tackles, including 194 as a senior. He committed to Vanderbilt University to play college football.
After not playing during his first year at Vanderbilt in 2013, Cunningham played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, recording 67 tackles and 1.5 sacks. As a redshirt sophomore in 2015, he played in all 12 games with nine starts. He finished the year with 103 tackles and 4.5 sacks and was named first team All-SEC.
In December 2016, Cunningham became the first unanimous All-American in Vanderbilt history, when he was named first team defensive All-American by the American Football Coaches Association.
Cunningham was the seventh Commodore to earn the consensus All-American honor for Vanderbilt. The last consensus All-American for Vanderbilt was punter Ricky Anderson in 1984.
Cunningham was named first team All-American by over a dozen national foundations and publications including CBS Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Phil Steele and SBNation. Cunningham is the first Vanderbilt Commodore to be named first-team All-American by ESPN.
Cunningham was a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation's top overall linebacker, Cunningham was also recognized as the SEC's Most Valuable Lineman/Linebacker by the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club on Tuesday December 13, 2016 one day after his birthday.
Cunningham had an SEC-best 119 total tackles, which ranked 11th overall nationally. He also registered 16.5 tackles for loss, finishing second in the SEC and 22nd nationally, along with four fumble recoveries, which tied for second nationally, just one behind the leader. Cunningham played his best games against SEC opponents, as he posted 89 total tackles, 51 solo tackles and 12 tackles for loss against SEC foes. He also had some of the best individual plays in those games, including a big fourth down tackle to end Georgia's game ending drive in the Commodores' win in Athens. Cunningham made another huge, nationally-recognized play in the fourth quarter of Vanderbilt's game against Auburn, when he perfectly timed a leap over Auburn's left guard as the ball was snapped on a field goal attempt, allowing him to arrive in the backfield at the same time as the ball, which Cunningham then blocked the field goal to preserve Vanderbilt's chances to win with less than 2:00 minutes remaining in the contest. A late interception by Auburn preserved the Tigers' victory, but Cunningham's leap was named Top Ten Play of the Day by ESPN.
Cunningham also made big plays against Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee helping the Commodores to SEC wins against UGA, Ole Miss and UT, leading them to a 6-6 season record, and securing Vanderbilt's first postseason bowl game since 2013.
Cunningham received an invitation to the NFL Combine and completed all of the combine and positional drills. He also participated in Vanderbilt's Pro Day and opted to only run positional drills for representatives and scouts in attendance. He attended private workouts with three NFL teams: the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
|Zach Cunningham's NFL Combine Workout|
|Zach Cunningham runs the 40-yard dash|
At the conclusion of the pre-draft process, Cunningham was projected to be a first or second round pick by NFL draft experts and scouts. He was ranked the third best linebacker prospect in the draft by Sports Illustrated, the third best outside linebacker by NFL analyst Bucky Brooks, the fourth best outside linebacker by NFLDraftScout.com, the fourth best linebacker by NFL analyst Mike Mayock, and was ranked the fifth best linebacker by ESPN.
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||10-yard split||20-yard split||20-yard shuttle||Three-cone drill||Vertical jump||Broad jump||Bench press|
|6 ft 3+1⁄2 in
|4.67 s||1.58 s||2.68 s||4.29 s||7.03 s||35 in
|10 ft 5 in
|All values from NFL Combine|
The Houston Texans selected Cunningham in the second round with the 57th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
|Texans draft Cunningham 57th overall|
|NFL Draft Profile: Zach Cunningham|
On May 12, 2017, the Houston Texans signed Cunningham to a four-year, $4.47 million contract that includes $2.06 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $1.39 million.
Cunningham competed with Dylan Cole and Sio Moore for the starting left inside linebacker job with original starter Brian Cushing suspended for the first ten games of the season. Head coach Bill O'Brien named Cunningham the starter to begin the regular season.
He made his professional regular season debut during the Houston Texans' season-opening 29–7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and finished the game with five combined tackle and a pass deflection. The following week, Cunningham earned his first career start and recorded six combined tackles as the Texans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 13–9. On October 8, 2017, he collected nine combined tackles and forced the first fumble of his career during a 42–34 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. In Week 13, Cunningham recorded four combined tackles and made his first career sack on Titans' quarterback Marcus Mariota in the Texans' 24–13 loss at the Tennessee Titans. In Week 17, he collected a season-high 12 combined tackles (four solo) during a 22–13 loss at the Indianapolis Colts. He finished his rookie season in 2017 with 90 combined tackles (45 solo), six pass deflections, and 1.5 sacks in 16 games and 13 starts.
Cunningham entered training camp slated as a starting inside linebacker after Brian Cushing officially announced his retirement. Head coach Bill O'Brien named Cunningham and Whitney Mercilus the starting outside linebackers, along with middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney. He finished the 2018 season with 107 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, five pass breakups, and one interception.
In Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cunningham made a team high 10 tackles and sacked quarterback Gardner Minshew once as the Texans won 13–12. In Week 12 against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday Night Football, Cunningham recorded a team high 16 tackles in the 20–17 win. In Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, Cunningham recorded a team high 17 tackles (12 solo) during the 38–24 loss. He started all 16 games and recorded 142 total tackles (sixth in the league), two fumble recoveries, and two sacks..
On August 30, 2020, the Texans signed Cunningham to a four-year, $58 million contract extension with $23.5 million guaranteed, making him one of the highest paid inside linebackers in the NFL.
In Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens, Cunningham recorded a team high 15 tackles (11 solo) and sacked Lamar Jackson once during the 33–16 loss.