Malik Cunningham 2023 NFL Draft Overview
Weight: 192 pounds
2023 NFL Draft: Malik Cunningham Scouting Report
Malik Cunningham spent five years with the Louisville Cardinals and enters the 2023 NFL Draft as a late-round prospect with upside as an athletic, mobile backup quarterback. In five years as a Cardinal, Cunningham developed an excellent body of work as the successor to Lamar Jackson. In 2022, Cunningham had a down year (thanks to injuries) but still posted 1,568 passing yards, 560 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns and just five interceptions in 10 games.
2022 was far from his best season in Louisville. His first season as the full-time starter in 2019 saw him pass for 2,061 yards and 22 touchdowns while adding 482 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. In 2021, Cunningham went wild in the run game and rushed for 1,031 yards and 20 touchdowns while also throwing for 2,941 yards (career high) and 19 touchdowns. His impressive time in Louisville is capped by his being the college’s all-time touchdown record (120). The 24-year-old also has the second most total yards for Louisville (12,848), behind only Jackson.
Cunningham’s impressive portfolio led to him being drafted by the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions in the third round of the USFL draft. However, Cunningham has his eyes set on the NFL. Currently, Cunningham is expected to be drafted late on the third day of the draft. He has an accomplished college career and has shown good athletic traits making him a safe developmental/third-string quarterback at worst.
- Excellent athleticism and dynamic runner;
- Has high-end speed to break off big running plays;
- Able to create things in design runs as well as on scrambles;
- Very elusive as a runner and has excellent change-of-pace and change-of-direction in the open field;
- Dual-threat ability keeps defenses humble;
- Good ability to control the pocket and is able to step up;
- Has decent sense of pressure and can make plays on the run;
- Will happily take the checkdown if primary ready is not open;
- Can hit good back-shoulder throws outside the numbers;
- Good rhythm quarterback, game manager-esque;
- Good ball security and does not have tendency to make rash throws;
- Excellent experience and production at college level
- Slightly smaller than typical quarterbacks, slight frame presents injury concerns (especially given his tendency to run);
- Can give up sacks by trying to make big plays under pressure instead of throwing the ball away;
- Sometimes runs backwards to evade pressure, allowing big loss of yards and disrupting offensive tempo;
- Severely lacks arm strength;
- Has a tendency to throw floaters in inappropriate, short-yardage situations, which leaves the ball in the air for too long and limits run-after-catch potential;
- Was sometimes bailed out by spectacular contested catches by receivers;
- Lacks accuracy at deep and intermediate levels;
- Has a slow release;
- Ran a very RPO-heavy offense with few reads so will need to improve reading through progressions;
- Will often abandon a play when primary receiver is covered;
- Has a tendency to stare down primary reads;
- Statistically, had a better year in 2021 than 2022;
- Has shown lack of real development since 2019;
- Older prospect, will be 25 years old during rookie year
NFL Comparison: Sam Howell
Projection: Round 7
Bottom Line on Malik Cunningham
Cunningham’s limitations ultimately suggest that his ceiling in the NFL will be limited. His arm needs a lot of development, as does his processor. He has also shown a lack of improvement since 2019 and is already one of the older rookies in this year’s class. Despite all of this, Cunningham still presents as a draftable prospect due to his dynamic athleticism and dual-threat capabilities. He is one of the best running quarterbacks in this year’s draft and has an abundance of experience and good production at the college level.
At the NFL level, Cunningham will likely find a spot as a QB3 with the potential to become a QB2. Many people like to draw comparisons between Cunningham and Jackson. Both are excellent runners, and both are Louisville products. However, Jackson’s processor and arm talent is far superior to Cunningham’s. Sam Howell is a more apt comparison. While Howell has a much better arm than Cunningham (in terms of strength and accuracy), Howell’s limited processor is similar to Cunningham’s. At North Carolina, Howell largely operated an RPO-heavy, one-read offense. This is similar to what Cunningham has managed at Louisville. Both also have a tendency to abandon plays after the first read.
For Cunningham to be successful in the NFL, he will need a game plan that utilizes his rushing ability. In terms of throwing the ball, Cunningham would benefit from schemes that use a lot of RPOs, play action concepts, and bootlegs. Cunningham is most effective throwing outside of the pocket and so, in the NFL, he will find the most success in a scheme where he will not need to be relied on as a pure pocket passer. This mobile element of passing plays will also give him the opportunity to scramble if plays break down.
Main Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY