The Curious Case Of Benny Cunningham
By Mark Warren
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
With all of the recent talk of RB’s Zac Stacy and Tre Mason, the undrafted tweener from Middle Tennessee State is becoming the forgotten man in the St. Louis Rams’ backfield. Last season, Benny Cunningham served as the backup to Stacy, after RB Daryl Richardson underperformed and then battled injuries for the remainder of the season. He finished 2014 with 261 rushing yards on 5.6 yards per carry and one TD. Cunningham is a favorite of head coach Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff, which was evident in the opportunities he got last season despite his ball security issues. As we’ve cited before, Mason was told by Fisher that he would compete for starter carries, despite Stacy’s breakout rookie year last season where he gained 1,114 total yards and 8 TD’s.
Cunningham’s role in the offense is sure to change, but how much? Cunningham was a runner who spelled Stacy when he needed a breather, and he filled in when he was dinged with injuries. This season, he could be relegated to the third-string back, predominantly contributing on special teams. But let’s examine what Cunningham accomplished last season before we assume he’s going to see his carries drop.
He played in 14 games last season, and his most notable performance came against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 24 when he rushed for 109 yards and a TD on only 13 carries. Cunningham filled in when Stacy sustained a concussion midway through the game, and he helped the Rams complete the upset when he extended for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. As impressive as that was, he was running against the Bears defense, which ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed per game at a whopping 161. The next worst team, the Atlanta Falcons, allowed 135 yards per game. The Bears also allowed the second most scores to running backs with 23, only behind the Washington Redskins. Excluding that performance, Cunningham rushed 34 times for 152 yards and zero touchdowns on the season. His longest run of the season was a 56 yard sprint during garbage time against an Indianapolis Colts team that was losing 38-8 with less than three minutes left. The games against the Colts and Bears made up 70 percent of his rushing yards for the season, he rushed for only 80 yards combined during the other 12 games he played in.
As much as players and fans like Bam-Bam, he is an undrafted player who has a relatively low ceiling as a professional running back. On most teams he would have been a third-string player last season, but Cunningham got early chances to get carries due to injuries sustained by Richardson and Stacy. Now that Mason is in town, Cunningham simply can’t compete physically. Mason is faster, breaks more tackles and has better vision. Much like RB Isaiah Pead, he could see the majority of his time covering kicks next season. Only time will tell though, as training camp and the preseason are still to come.