Last season, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry had a real chance to break Eric Dickerson’s NFL record for rushing yards in one season. But one man got in his way and that was Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham.
More of that for Cunningham in 2021? NFL.com thinks so, and calls him the team’s most likely “breakout star”.
Adam Rank writes: “That may seem like overwhelming because … the guy led the league in duels last year at 164. … (But) I never hear him mentioned in the discussion of the top performers on the position. Probably because the Texans’ defensive wasn’t good. Perhaps that can change this season with new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. Texans go to Tampa 2 from 3-4, which is perfect for Zach. He could make a leap in recognition this year. ”
And then there’s the look from Henry, who already recognizes Cunningham well.
In an appearance on the Bussin With The Boys podcast earlier this year, Henry spoke of the moment in the final game of the season when Cunningham only forced his second lost fumble of the year and his record-breaking momentum slipped away.
“If he doesn’t hit that ball, how close can I get to this record?” Henry said, adding that he believes that if it hadn’t been for Cunningham’s forced fumble, and if he had gotten that run and kept his swing, the record would be for him.
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Of course we now know it shouldn’t be, and Henry was full of praise for the player who denied him the record.
“I don’t know how he doesn’t get any more recognition than he does,” said Henry. “You don’t ignore the things he does, he is the truth.”
Regardless of how well Cunningham played and how many tackles he collected, the fact is that he was playing for a team that went 4-12. Nobody on a losing team is going to get a lot of credit.
But while outsiders may not have paid much attention to Cunningham, it’s clear the players did. And as it sounds, so did the coaches. And now NFL.com is doing the same.
Going forward, Henry is determined to work harder and hit this record. But with Cunningham now playing in Houston, often referred to as “linebacker-friendly”, Henry could face another Cunningham-shaped roadblock against the Texans in 2021.
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