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Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham could be the Steelers next Lawrence Timmons

Could the Steelers look to replace Lawrence Timmons early in the 2017 NFL Draft?

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to miss Lawrence Timmons. There is no other way around it. I am a firm believer in Vince Williams, but Timmons was a captain of the defense, and he didn’t make the calls, he made plays.

Timmons went retro in 2016, and turned his stellar season into a big new contract with the Miami Dolphins for the 2017 season leaving the Steelers with a void in the middle of their defense.

Williams will have every chance to be the starter next season, and rightfully so, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers aren’t looking to add a player in the 2017 NFL Draft to be the future player who will stand alongside Ryan Shazier for years to come.

Who could that player be? How about a player who visited the Steelers on a pre-draft visit Friday. None other than Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt. Cunningham has many of the same characteristics of Timmons when it comes to size, speed and the ability to tackle. Cunningham might be more comfortable in a 4-3 defense, but it doesn’t mean he couldn’t adjust to the 3-4 and sub package heavy defense of the current Steelers.

To get a better glimpse of what Cunningham brings to the table, take a look at his strengths and weaknesses from his NFL Draft profile.


Play-making machine. Plays on a downhill tilt and is always looking to draw first blood. Fast to see it, process and respond. Creates tackles for losses by shooting gaps at appropriate angles. Has a good feel for blockers and uses varied speeds and subtle upper body turns to avoid blockers on second level. Quick in his lateral scrape and races ahead of blockers. Keeps play-side shoulder uncovered when flowing to the ball. Football magnet with outstanding tackle production and ability to create and recover turnovers. Rangy long strider with instincts and play speed to carry him from sideline to sideline in search of the ball. Has extended tackle radius. Durable and reliable. Has the athleticism and awareness to handle man coverage responsibilities against running backs and tight ends. Quick to trigger on throws from zone and limit yards after catch.


Angular build with high waist and skinny legs. Lack of power in his lower body creates issues with contact balance for him. Plays behind his shoulder rather than behind his hands in take-on situations. Can get entangled against size and slow to disengage. Doesn't have play strength to fight past angle blocks once they land. Will need to work to keep shoulders squared in his attack. Leveraging his gap and standing his ground could be a challenge. Not a banger or a bend-and-strike finisher. Tends to attack ball carriers up high rather than down low and will slide off of too many would-be tackles.

If that isn’t enough, check out this incredible break down on Cunningham by SB Nation’s Brett Kollmann: