CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: Malik Cunningham #3 of the Louisville Cardinals throws against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: Malik Cunningham #3 of the Louisville Cardinals throws against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Malik Cunningham Is The Biggest Wildcard In The Draft

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Malik Cunningham is a dynamic football player and he brings back memories of an NFL legend.

He reminds me of QB Randall Cunningham (no relation) who played a lot of his career for the Eagles. His trademarks as a playmaker was being an incredible runner, and I’ve never seen a prettier long ball.

Those are the three traits that show up in this Louisville signal-caller, so much so, it was like going back in a time machine.

The resemblance is uncanny.

Why is Cunningham the biggest wildcard in the draft?

Cunningham looks like a sure-fire top-10 pick when watching those highlights, but there is always the full body of work to consider.

I have never vacillated more between a first and a fifth-round grade when evaluating a prospect, but that is what happened.

There were these “wow” moments when he looked elite, and there were all these other moments laced into the game film when he looked like a raw developmental passer.

Shades of QB Lamar Jackson

There are strong similarities between Cunningham and Ravens’ signal-caller Lamar Jackson.

They have similar styles and Jackson also played his college ball at Louisville.

Both put on a clinic running around making plays and both struggle with their ball placement at all three route levels.

I just got done evaluating Jackson for JETS COUNTRY and there is a striking resemblance, and Jackson is currently in talks with Baltimore to break the bank with a new contract.

Jackson’s record with the Ravens is 37-12, so it is proven his style works and it can win in the NFL.

That only adds to the allure and the intrigue with Cunningham.

Remember QB Malik Willis

There is a very strong chance Cunningham will catapult up my board. Last season, I started by giving Willis a third-round grade last fall, and by the time I put out my final first-round mock for JETS COUNTRY, I had him going No. 2 overall to Detroit.

Willis ended up going in the third-round to the Titans, but he looked like the superstar I thought he would be this pre-season.

Cunningham resonates with me strongly, and he is exactly the type of QB I tend to fall in love with. All I am waiting on is to see his 2022 game film.

My scouting mentor, a man with four Super Bowl rings, told me to ‘stick to the dynamic ones,’ and Cunningham is dynamic.

There is just no substitute for playmakers in the NFL, and Cunningham is a playmaker who has already earned first-round grades from CBS (No. 26) and The Pro Football Network (No. 13).

#3 Malik Cunningham 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

Daniel Kelly Grade: Fourth-Round – Early Fall 2022 Report

First Round Mock Big Board: QB12

Projected by 1.3% of the NFL Draft Community to be a first-round pick as of September 9, 2022 (nflmockdraftdatabase.com)

2021 game film reviewed: Syracuse, FSU, Ole Miss (click to watch games viewed to form this evaluation).

Level of competition: High

2021 stats: 209/337 (62.0%) 2,941 yards (8.7 avg.), 19 TD, 6 INT.

NFL comparable: Randall Cunningham

2023 NFL Draft Scouting Report:

Raw passer with confidence and dynamic playmaking ability. Option-type of QB with excellent ball-handling skills. Able to evade, slide around and roll out to make defenses adjust to him. Can either hold the ball too long or get impatient and take off too early. An explosive, graceful, and nimble runner with burst. Able to make something out of nothing. Best throwing at the short and deep route levels. Fairly consistent deep and has the ability to hit receivers in stride. Best throwing slants short to intermediate, working up seams, and shallow crossing routes. Protects the ball well and only threw two ill-advised passes in this film exposure. Can lock-in. Placement is too inconsistent. Looked overwhelmed vs. Ole Miss once he got down on the scoreboard. Exciting developmental prospect with a high ceiling.

What to watch for during the 2022 college football season:

  1. Does he look as raw as a passer?
  2. Does he hold the ball too long before delivery?
  3. Is he showing a tendency to lock in with receivers?
  4. Has his ball placement improved at all three route levels?

I keep going back to the words of my scouting mentor, stick with the dynamic ones.

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL Scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated New York Jets and he is the Editor-in-Chief for First Round Mock. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @firstroundmock.

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