From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling Louisville QB Malik Cunningham.
#3 Malik Cunningham, QB, Louisville (SR) – 5117, 188LBS
Senior Bowl Invite
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Malik Cunningham||5’11 188lbs||9 3/8||31 3/8||77 7/8|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Superior scrambling ability
— Tough runner despite his slight frame
— Doesn’t take unnecessary or violent hits often
— Good, not great, arm strength and velocity
— Sufficient understanding of ball placement on most routes
— Lacks consistent accuracy and anticipation
— Questionable decision-making when his first read is taken away
— Wild in the pocket, bails too often and doesn’t consistently step up
— Commits to running too early in his scrambles
— Often misses receivers high, but also short changes deep passes
— Poor footwork and mechanics as a passer
— Birthday: October 6, 1998 (24 years old)
— Four-star recruit out of high school in Alabama
— Four-year starter for Louisville
— Second only to Lamar Jackson in career total yards and QB rushing yards
— Holds Louisville record for career total touchdowns and tied Jackson’s career QB rushing touchdown record, which is also an ACC record
— Career Stats: 691/1,104 for 9,308 yards (63% completion percentage) with 70 touchdowns to 29 interceptions. Also had 3,179 yards rushing on 618 attempts (sacks included) with 50 touchdowns
As versatile, athletic quarterbacks become more and more prevalent in the NFL, guys with the skillset Malik Cunningham possesses will always draw attention.
Clearly, based on his statistics alone, Cunningham is a quarterback with a stacked resume, but it’s not without critical flaws that prevent him from obtaining a strong grade.
Cunningham doesn’t have an elite arm for starters. His arm strength does allow him to feel confident in making NFL throws, but others will remain dangerous for him. Watch here as he completes a curl route from the opposite hash against Syracuse. Usually, a good indicator of velocity, this ball has too much arc to it and arrives at a speed that would be very dangerous in the NFL.
Despite being a four-year starter, Cunningham’s mechanics aren’t yet refined to a comfortable stage. It starts with his footwork. He rarely steps into throws, often generating torque from his core or his arm alone. While ultimately not a dealbreaker, that makes it more difficult for him to control and really drive his passes down the field.
See here against Wake Forrest. Even though Cunningham does make a step, it’s not the driving force of the momentum through his body to the ball. This ball sails on him, giving his receiver no chance at the play.
However, Cunningham does have some throws on tape that show he has an understanding of timing and ball placement within the design of a play. This play against Florida State, for example, has Cunningham dropping this corner route into a decent-sized window between three defenders. A total timing play, clearly, but he executes promptly.
If you watch that play closely, however, you’ll see that Cunningham is quick to lock onto his receiver. This is a major concern as it gets him into a lot of trouble. Here against Syracuse, Cunningham stares down this dig route the whole way and is blind to not one, but two defenders that track his eyes to the middle of the field. The result is an easy interception for the linebacker.
Cunningham is a one-read and bail quarterback. The longer he hangs in the pocket, the worse his decision-making gets as the clock ticks for him to get rid of the ball. He doesn’t often look off safeties or backers nor progress beyond two reads. This, coupled with the superior athleticism that bails him out so often, makes for relatively poor pocket awareness and management.
Back to Syracuse, Cunningham’s receiver has a deep post against the Orange’s blitz. Cunningham doesn’t step up and allow his back to handle the blitzing corner, instead drifting back away from the pocket, freeing up the blitzer and another rusher before eventually throwing the ball away, missing on a potential splash play to his receiver down the field.
Of course, more often than not, Cunningham’s scrambling ability gets him out of these situations with a net positive play. Even more so, as a designed runner, he can be quite dangerous with his vision and patience to allow the play to develop as the defense scrambles to track him down.
Here against Florida State, the Seminoles look to have corralled this QB keeper until Cunningham gathers himself, peaks the cutback lane, and takes off for a huge gain.
Plays like that are what draw attention to Cunningham. Naturally, most NFL coaches would be cautious with designing too many keeper plays for a 5’11-188lb quarterback.
Cunningham has missed his fair share of games due to injury. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t tough with the ball in his hands. You don’t score 50 touchdowns on the ground without lowering your shoulder in the red zone a few times. He scored two such touchdowns against Florida State last season, and while this clip shows the shorter of the two scores, it displays his tight-space elusiveness and his grit at the goal line.
It’s not fair to compare Cunningham to Lamar Jackson, but that’s his standard after following him at Louisville and challenging his career records. And while Cunningham will be mocked to Baltimore in deeper mock drafts over the next two months, there’s a reason he didn’t garner the same recognition as the former NFL MVP and Heisman Trophy winner.
Cunningham has a ways to go to be an NFL passer and his size is more concerning than other sub-6’ quarterbacks. He’s worth investing a late pick to see if he can secure a third-string position or a practice squad spot to mimic the Lamar Jacksons and Jalen Hurts of the NFL to help prepare the first-string defense as he develops into a reputable backup.
Even as a clear Day 3 pick, I believe his stock is a tad high to be a Steeler come April as the team looks to fill out the quarterback room behind Kenny Pickett. Still, should he be available at the team’s price point, he’d make a good bit of sense for Pittsburgh to stash Cunningham at the bottom of its roster.
Projection: 5th Round
Depot Draft Grade: 6.9 (Backup)
Games Watched: Syracuse ‘22, Wake Forrest ‘22, Florida State ‘22