Mr. Irrelevant 2013
Two weeks ago, I began a series taking a closer look at each player the Indianapolis Colts selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. Today is Justice Cunningham’s turn.
Selection: Seventh round, 254th overall (Mr. Irrelevant)
Position/size: Tight end/6 ft. 3 in., 258 lbs.
Collegiate awards: 2012 team captain for South Carolina, 2010 Steve Sisk Outstanding Blocker Award in the spring.
Collegiate stats: Played in all 53 games and started 23 times, caught 50 passes for 581 yards and one touchdown during collegiate career
Strengths: The Colts drafted Cunningham to do one thing – block, and that’s what he’s best at. He’s not as big as a typical offensive lineman, but Cunningham can still serve as a sixth lineman to help with extra protection against feared pass-rushers or to clear out bigger holes for runners to pick up big chunks of yards. He also has capabilities as a pass-catcher. He gets open because of his skillful route-running abilities, and his ball skills and physicality allow him to make tough catches in heavy traffic.
Weaknesses: Although he was able to create separation on pass routes during college, Cunningham’s athleticism will limit his ability to get open in the pros. He’s also not terribly tall or long for a tight end, meaning he’s not someone a quarterback can rely on to bail him out. Pass-catching wise, Cunningham will be at best a third option among tight ends to throw to.
Best case scenario: Cunningham’s physicality and blocking ability fit perfectly into OC Pep Hamilton’s desire to pound the ball in the running game. He’s no Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham in the passing game, but he’s able to get open for easy dump offs and quick pickups and consistently makes tough catches over the middle of the field.
Worst case scenario: Cunningham’s lack of athleticism make him completely inept in the passing game. He’s purely used as a blocker, which always gives away that the Colts are running the ball when he’s on the field. Either that or they’ll be down one more play-maker in passing situations. His blocking turns out to not be as good as expected, and he’s cut at the end of training camp.
Realistic expectations: Colts fans should expect Cunningham to do what he does best, which is blocking. That is a trait that almost always transfers from college to the NFL, so it would be a major disappointment if he can’t establish himself as at least a solid blocker in both the running and passing game. He might be able to catch a couple passes per game, but given his athleticism and length (or lack thereof), he should not be relied upon to pick up chunks of yards through the air.
Quotes: GM Ryan Grigson: “He played in a major conference that produced some good tight ends. Not only is (he) a big body that can block, he’s physical, but this guy has some savvy as a receiver. He has some quickness. He will make some catches in traffic and hold onto the football. At that position, if you’re fearless and are that competitive with the ball in the air and you want to get in the end zone, those are things you can’t teach. He has that. He has that will to be great.”
Cunningham: “It was a dream come true. Even though sometimes it's kind of better to go the free agent way so you can pick the team, to hear your name at the end of the day it's always a plus. The Colts are known to be a winner. They're always making the playoffs, even this year with a young team.”