After years of being under-represented at the NFL Draft Combine, a pair of Commodores will have the opportunity to wow scouts in Indianapolis. Linebacker Zach Cunningham and offensive tackle Will Holden will have the chance to boost their draft stock this March after being invited to participate in the league’s annual meat market.
Cunningham, a 6’4, 230 pound linebacker, was a consensus All-American as a redshirt junior who decided to leave Vanderbilt after three seasons and capitalize on his gridiron credentials. He’s currently projected as a late-first, early-second round pick. If he can find his way into a spot among the first 32 selections, he’ll be the first Commodore since Chris Williams in 2008 to represent Vanderbilt in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Holden is a bit more under the radar, but a strong performance at the Senior Bowl has pushed him onto some scouts’ wish lists. Mel Kiper has him ranked as one of his top 10 offensive tackles for 2017, though this year’s crop of blockers hasn’t earned rave reviews. a big performance at the Combine could push the 6’7, 312-pound lineman into the middle rounds of the draft.
Having two players selected and primed for big NFL careers would be a boon to Vanderbilt’s recruiting. After churning out seven draftees between 2012 and 2014 — including pro standouts Jordan Matthews, Andre Hal, Casey Hayward, and the recently-retired Zac Stacy — the Commodores have had just one draftee the past two years. That was Stephen Weatherly, who was a seventh-round pick of the Vikings and appeared in just two games last fall.
Cunningham and Holden stand as proof this coaching staff can develop players and guide them toward NFL careers. While Cunningham was a four-star recruit, he still needed time to grow as a player and made limited contributions his first two years on campus. Holden, a three-star athlete in high school, maximized his potential to become one of the team’s most consistent performers.
Both players continue to improve, and the foundation they laid at Vanderbilt has set them up for successful professional careers. With strong performances at the NFL Draft Combine, the duo could be the next generation of Commodore representatives at the next level — and that’s an asset Derek Mason could certainly build from.