Benny Cunningham: The Rams Darkhorse Backfield Candidate

Benny Cunningham vs McNeese State.

Benny Cunningham vs McNeese State.

Every year, over 250 former college players get drafted. Even more are signed as priority free agents or given a tryout. The majority of these players will never amount to anything in the NFL; however, it’s very important to be aware of talented small school players just in case there’s a situation where they’ll be thrust into playing time. In my rush to add players to my newly created rating system, I only had running backs from the combine scored. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at potential fantasy starters who were drafted late into favorable situations. In Benny Cunningham, formerly of Middle-Tennessee State, there’s potential for some fantasy value should he get an opportunity.

Benny Cunningham has immense fantasy football potential

Over the last 2 years at Middle-Tennessee State, Cunningham averaged 5.19 yards per carry, with an average line of 16 carries, 84.7 yards, and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Cunningham blew it up his final year, averaging 19.4 carries, 120 yards, and an outstanding 2.2 touchdowns per game, finishing with 6.2 yards per carry. In 13 total games played, Middle-Tennessee gave Cunningham 19 or more carries 4 times. 3 of those 4 times, he ran for 100+ yards. 2 of those 3 games, he ran for 200+ yards. Extrapolated over an entire season, he would have run for 232 carries, 1440 yards, and 26 touchdowns. Mind bogglingly good numbers, and exactly what you want to see from a running back playing in the Sun Belt Conference. When given an opportunity, Cunningham dominated the competition he faced. There has to be a catch, right?

Last year, Cunningham tore his patellar tendon at the end of an absolute throttling of Florida International, a game where he ran for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns (with 2 called back due to penalty). Due to his injury, the former Blue Raider was unable to finish the season, and couldn’t do any workout drills except the 40 yard dash. Using the 4.51 40 yard dash from his pro day, and plugging in average agility/explosion numbers, Cunningham is the top rated small back in my spreadsheet, narrowly edging out Giovani Bernard as the #1 running back. Two of his numbers pop out to my computer: his studly elite touchdown production, only bested by Barry Sanders for backs I’ve tracked (going back to 2000). Cunningham is also the 7th strongest back I’ve ever recorded, throwing 225 pounds up 26 times.

The film backed up the numbers Excel spit out at me. Cunningham is incredibly strong for his 5’10”, 209 pound frame, routinely bowling defenders over and driving them back. On tape, I also saw above average quickness and agility. Had Cunningham not suffered the knee injury, I think it’s extremely likely that he’d be drafted.  100% healthy, he’s probably a mid-4.4 guy with good agility numbers. That would push his rating up even higher in my system.

We’ve already established that Cunningham is a talented running back, so how does he compare to the other Rams running backs?

Player

Height

Weight

Speed

Benny Cunningham

70

209

101.03

Terrance Ganaway

72

239

105.83

Isaiah Pead

70

197

106.08

Daryl Richardson

70

192

97.05

Zac Stacy

69

216

102.59

At first glance, none of them really jump out at you. They’re all of similar height with roughly similar Speed Scores. Terrance Ganaway’s hulking 239 frame stands out, as does Daryl Richardson’s paltry size/speed combination. 192 pounds with a 4.46 40 isn’t a “burner,” that’s molasses slow. Assuming that when healthy Cunningham is a 4.4 runner, his Speed Score because a much more respectable 111.52, making him the top back. What if we compare these 5 runners based on their college performance?

Player

Gs

ATTs/G

Yds/G

TDs/G

REC/G

Benny Cunningham

5

19.40

120.00

2.20

1.80

Terrance Ganaway

13

19.23

119.00

1.62

0.46

Isaiah Pead

13

18.23

96.85

0.92

3.00

Daryl Richardson

8

17.38

103.13

1.38

5.00

Zac Stacy

13

15.92

87.77

0.77

0.77

Cunningham had the most yards and touchdowns per game, and had the most receptions per game of the 200+ pound RBs. Zac Stacy’s low ATTs/G number is troubling given his reputation as a workhorse back. Even more puzzling is his low touchdowns per game output. I expected more from than former Vanderbilt runner. Pead and Richardson showed good receiving ability in college, and their size suggests they’ll be limited to a change of pace role in the NFL.

The point I’m trying to hammer home is that there are no sure bets in the Rams backfield, so why not grab the cheapest option and hope he hits? My confidence in Zac Stacy has taken a hit since I looked at the numbers, and Ganaway seems like more of a fullback than a true threat to take the starting role. Isaiah Pead was tired of football last year, and Richardson is a piss poor inside runner. If Jeff Fisher runs a Pete Carroll-style open competition for the starting running back job, who knows what could happen. The reality is that Cunningham was an undrafted player, which leaves the team with no obligation to give him any sort of playing time. He could be cut next week after a bad practice. NFL teams are terrified of admitting they’re wrong, so Pead’s status as a 2nd round pick gives him more leeway than the others have. He’ll get every chance to prove he can be the starting running back. When that inevitably fails, there isn’t another highly drafted player behind him. None of Zac Stacy (5th round), Daryl Richardson (7th round), Benny Cunningham (undrafted), and Terrance Ganaway (waiver pickup) entered the league with much fanfare. Grab Cunningham with a 5th round pick in a deep dynasty league and hope he turns into what I think he’s capable of.

 

About Coleman Kelly

21 year old Network Administration major from Central Connecticut. Football fanatic and New England Patriots fan. Lover of cats.

About Coleman Kelly

21 year old Network Administration major from Central Connecticut. Football fanatic and New England Patriots fan. Lover of cats.
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  • Rose

    Good article on Cunningham. He is a very hard worker. I have followed him from high school thru college and personally know him. He is my cousin and I am very proud of him. His work ethics are outstanding and he has strong morals, values and humbleness. I wish him success in his quest.

    • Coleman Kelly

      Me too, man! I hope he gets his shot!