5 issues to learn about undrafted Patriots rookie Malik Cunningham

Patriots

Whether or not he strains up at quarterback or large receiver, Cunningham is likely one of the extra intriguing gamers more likely to characteristic for New England through the preseason.

Malik Cunningham Patriots
Malik Cunningham throughout Patriots coaching camp earlier in August. John Tlumacki/Globe Workers

Every season since 2004, the Patriots have had a minimum of one undrafted free agent make the staff’s roster popping out of coaching camp. In 2023, Malik Cunningham is one in all a number of gamers vying to maintain that streak going.

Cunningham, 24, was signed by New England instantly following the top of the NFL Draft. A quarterback on the faculty degree, he has labored principally as a large receiver to date with the Patriots. Added to that, Cunningham has lately been given observe reps at quarterback.

Although he’s removed from a lock to make the ultimate 53-player roster, the rookie will doubtless get his share of alternatives through the preseason, on condition that Invoice Belichick advised reporters he expects “the gamers who’re least skilled will get essentially the most taking part in time.”

Right here are some things to learn about Cunningham:

He was an Alabama highschool star quarterback.

Cunningham grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. Enjoying for Park Crossing Excessive Faculty, he amassed 6,276 yards and 71 touchdowns by means of the air whereas including 1,926 yards and 32 scores on the bottom.

As a senior, Cunningham helped Park Crossing to a 13-1 report and a run to the Class 6-A state semifinals. He led the staff’s assault, throwing 30 landing passes whereas including 19 extra as a rusher.

At season’s finish, he was a finalist for Alabama’s Mr. Soccer Award and was named the Class 5A-7A All-Metro Participant of the 12 months by the Montgomery Advertiser.

He acquired recruiting presents from a number of high faculty packages.

Cunningham dedicated to Louisville within the spring of 2016, however solely after a aggressive recruiting course of.

He reportedly acquired presents from a variety of school soccer packages: Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Memphis, Purdue, Troy, Tulane, and UAB.

Based on faculty recruiting website Rivals, Cunningham was a four-star prospect. Whereas he got here from Alabama, Cunningham was not supplied a scholarship by the Crimson Tide, although Nick Saban tried him out as a defensive again.

“It’s a great match for me and the offense they run,” Cunningham mentioned after committing to Louisville. “My main is in enterprise tech, in order that was a great match for me. It was a household match once I get down there and I do know P.J. [Blue], my [high school] teammate.”

With a Louisville tie, Cunningham has drawn comparisons to (and has interacted with) Lamar Jackson.

When Cunningham arrived on campus at Louisville in 2017, it was within the speedy wake of then-Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson successful the Heisman Trophy.

The 2 gamers had been in contrast to one another on condition that they overlapped (although Cunningham was a redshirt freshman throughout Jackson’s remaining season).

However contemplating the towering heights of Jackson’s achievements — Heisman on the faculty degree, MVP within the NFL — Cunningham has stored issues in perspective.

“Lamar’s a participant not from this earth. He’s very totally different,” he mentioned of Jackson on the 2023 Senior Bowl. “I benefit from the comparability. I really like that, however we’re each our personal gamers. I do sample my sport on him. It’s a blessing to have the ability to be in the identical class as him. He’s the place I wish to get at. I’m blessed to have him in my nook.”

Throughout his years at Louisville, Cunningham did handle to equal and even exceed Jackson in just a few classes. He finally broke his predecessor’s college report for whole profession touchdowns, a feat that drew each congratulations and reward from the Ravens quarterback.

He completed his Louisville profession with a 62.6 % completion proportion, 9,660 passing yards, 70 passing touchdowns, and 29 interceptions. Cunningham added 3,179 speeding yards and 50 touchdowns on the bottom (together with a formidable 20 in 13 video games within the 2021 season).

The Patriots paid a notable sum of money to signal him as an undrafted free agent.

Whereas Cunningham was not judged to be an elite quarterback prospect by NFL scouts, his expertise was nonetheless simple. He ran a 4.53 40-yard sprint time on the rookie mix, one of many quickest instances by a quarterback at this yr’s occasion.

“Groups might want to determine how Cunningham would match into an offense, however his skill to make explosive performs along with his legs shouldn’t be discounted,” wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.

Nonetheless, NFL groups skipped him within the draft (he was picked within the third spherical of the USFL draft by the Birmingham Stallions, however opted to not signal).

The Patriots didn’t waste time pursuing him, nonetheless, and rapidly locked Cunningham right into a historic deal.

Based on NFL reporter Doug Kyed, New England signed Cunningham to a contract that included $200,000 in assured cash with a $30,000 signing bonus, a report quantity for a Patriots undrafted free agent.

He’s attempting to take Julian Edelman’s recommendation, and has impressed at coaching camp.

Cunningham has drawn plaudits for his work ethic and for being a “playmaker,” in keeping with Mac Jones. He was additionally lucky sufficient to run right into a fellow faculty quarterback-turned-NFL large receiver, Julian Edelman.

The now-retired Patriot gave Cunningham some recommendation throughout a go to to the staff facility earlier in coaching camp.

“He got here within the coaching room. He advised me to simply hold my head down, hold working, simply continue learning from the older guys and simply hold being a sponge with all the pieces,” Cunningham mentioned of Edelman. “You possibly can study a lot all through the constructing as a receiver, a quarterback, simply studying from the defensive guys and what they’re pondering, totally different coverages. Simply choosing their brains. It’s been enjoyable.”

After spending most of his time with the receivers, Cunningham lately began to get some reps at quarterback.

Whether or not or not that equates with preseason taking part in time below middle — or if it’s merely a scout staff system — stays to be seen. In both case, Cunningham is a gifted and intriguing participant to control through the Patriots’ preseason schedule.


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