St Louis Rams running back Benny Cunningham tells his draft story

Rams running back Benny Cunningham went from undrafted free agent to an integral part of the Rams offense. 

L.G. Patterson/AP

St. Louis Rams running back Benny Cunningham is one of the many young men who didn’t hear his name called on draft day in 2013. 

Just like so many before him and so many after him, he has a story about his journey as a college prospect, to going undrafted, to being in the NFL.

Cunningham had a terrific career at Middle Tennessee State, but an injury his senior year ended his season and likely cost him being selected in the draft. 

Cunningham told the Rams website it was a long process to come back from the injury and prove to teams he was worthy of an opportunity. 

“At the beginning, it wasn’t that bad,” Cunningham said. “I’d probably get there around nine and leave around 10. But once I started being able to do more, I would get there at about nine o’clock in the morning and — including classes — I wouldn’t leave until about six or seven.”

The injury took a toll on Cunningham not just from a physical standpoint, but it had a mental affect as well.

“That just put a mental challenge on me,” he said. “But once I saw the process and started to get those abilities back, I started to gain confidence in my leg.

“The last thing I did was agility,” Cunningham added. “I would say that was probably right before I came to St. Louis. I probably did agility for a month before being here. That’s probably the last part to come — just being able to run full speed and stop and change direction. That was probably the hardest part to get back.”

The injury cost Cunningham the ability to attend the NFL Combine so many scouts did not get a chance to see him. At his pro day, he was still limited on what he could do on the field. The Rams and the Tennessee Titans were the only two teams to come out and see him.

“We ended up posting it on YouTube just to let everyone who wanted to be able to take a look,” Cunningham said. “But that day was good. I feel like I did a pretty good job. I showed that I was recovering, I showed that I could move. I showed that I was gaining everything I had back.”

Cunningham knew his odds were low of being drafted, but decided to watch the draft nevertheless.

“Everybody wants to get drafted, but I just wanted an opportunity at that point, it was frustrating,” he said. “But I completely understand what goes into it. And why draft someone who was coming off a knee injury when you’ve got a lot of good talent out there to choose from?” 

The Rams weren’t the only team to call Cunningham after he went undrafted, but he felt a special connection with coach Jeff Fisher. 

“He was probably the only head coach to reach out to me,” Cunningham said, adding that Fisher told him, “It’s not a bad thing when the head coach likes you." 

“That had a lot to do with my decision,” Cunningham said. “I talked to my agent about it, and we both felt like this was the place to be.”

Cunningham wants all the prospects to know that it doesn’t matter if you’re the first pick or you go undrafted, if you are fortunate enough to get an opportunity, make sure to make the most of it.

“The opportunity will come,” he said. “Signing as an undrafted free agent — everybody has a chance to showcase their skills in training camp and into the preseason. So you pretty much want an opportunity. Whether you’re drafted or undrafted, the opportunity is the most important thing.”

(h/t St. Louis Rams)