Last season, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry had a genuine shot at breaking Eric Dickerson's NFL record for single-season rushing yards. But one man got in his way, and that was Houston Texans linebacker, Zach Cunningham.
More of the same for Cunningham in 2021? NFL.com thinks so, labeling him the team's most likely "breakout star.''
This might seem like a stretch because Cunningham signed a four-year, $58 million extension last August. And the dude led the league in tackles last year with 164. So, while he's one of the highest-paid players at his position and has clearly been highly productive, I never hear him mentioned in the discussion of the top performers at the position. Probably because the Texans' defense hasn't been good. Maybe that can change this season with new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. The Texans are going from the 3-4 to the Tampa 2, which is perfect for Zach. He could make a leap in recognition this year. - Adam Rank, NFL.com
And then there is the view of Henry, who recognizes Cunningham plenty already.
In an appearance earlier this year on the podcast 'Bussin With The Boys,' Henry discussed the moment in the final game of the season when Cunningham forced only his second lost fumble of the year and derailed his record-breaking momentum.
"If he doesn't hit that ball, how close do I get to that record?" Henry said about his opportunity to set an NFL record in 2020.
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Of course, we now know it wasn't to be, and Henry was full of praise for the player who denied him the record.
"I don't know how he doesn't get more recognition than he does," Henry said. "You don't ignore the things that he be doing, he's the truth."
No matter how well Cunningham has played, and how many tackles he racked up, the fact is he was playing for a team that went 4-12. Nobody on a losing team will get much credit.
While outsiders may not have paid Cunningham much attention, it's clear that players were. And by the sounds of things, the coaches did, too. And now NFL.com is doing the same.
Moving forward, Henry is determined to push harder and reach that record. But with Cunningham now set to play in what is frequently described as a "linebacker-friendly'' scheme in Houston.
Henry might face another Cunningham-shaped roadblock against the Texans in 2021.
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