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Mel Kiper Jr.: Vandy LB Zach Cunningham could be a fit for Raiders

Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham could help the Raiders pressure opposing quarterbacks. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders do not pick until 24th overall in this year’s NFL draft, the latest first-round selection they’ve had, minus a trade, since 2003, when they got Nnamdi Asomugha at No. 31. And Asomugha turned out to be a pretty good pick for them.

With the three-time Pro Bowl and two-time first-team All-Pro defensive back as Oakland’s late-first-round template, does ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. see any comparable players at No. 24 this year who would fill an immediate and specific need for the Raiders?

“I think Jarrad Davis, the linebacker from Florida, if he were there, is a great character kid who’s got versatility, is a tackling machine. I think he would certainly be very interesting at that point,” Kiper said on a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters on Tuesday.

Kevin King, who has great length, everybody kind of projects him to Seattle. I look to Oakland as a team that could look at the cornerback, Kevin King, from Washington.”

Kiper, though, went a little further. The Raiders have an obvious need at inside linebacker, and he mentioned a name not thrown around much by many draftniks.

“I tell you, Zach Cunningham, from Vanderbilt, an inside ’backer with great height and range, tough for quarterbacks to deal with an inside linebacker who has the kind of height and athleticism he has,” Kiper said. “He had a great year for the Commodores. I think Zach Cunningham, for either Oakland, Kansas City, teams like that, late first round, would make a lot of sense.”

The 6-foot-3, 234-pound Cunningham may be a bit light to be a thumper inside, but he made up for it as a consensus All-American with quickness, leading the SEC with 125 total tackles and four fumble recoveries and adding 16.5 tackles for loss.

Cunningham said at the combine he was an “instinctive” and “physical” linebacker who could also play well in pass coverage.

“I think I’m a lengthy player, a pretty fast player – speed – a sideline-to-sideline player, and that’s something that has helped me,” he said. “That and my instincts has helped me to be a good player.”

Cunningham had a 19-tackle game in Vandy’s 17-16 win at Georgia last season, and of his 295 career tackles, 39.5 were for a loss; he also had six sacks, seven forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

Think the Raiders, who had a league-low 25 sacks despite the presence of NFL defensive player of the year Khalil Mack, couldn't use that type of disruption coming from the middle, let alone someone who can pick up tight ends coming across the middle?

“I have a great work ethic, passion for the game, passion for what I do,” he said. “A hard player. A team player. Always putting the team first, but is going to sell himself out for his teammates, as much as my teammates would sell themselves out for me.”