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Malik Cunningham Is Embracing His Switch From Quarterback to Wide Receiver

WR Malik Cunningham
WR Malik Cunningham

As a mobile, Black quarterback, Malik Cunningham has long looked up to Lamar Jackson.

He followed Jackson to Louisville and took aim at his records. When it came to playing quarterback in the NFL, Cunningham (like Jackson) insisted he was capable.

For his first year in the league with the New England Patriots, Cunningham split duties between signal-caller and wide receiver. When the Ravens plucked him off the Patriots' practice squad late in the season, multiple New England veterans tweeted their support that he should go chase his quarterback dreams somewhere else.

So, when Ravens coaches called Cunnigham a week before this year's NFL draft and asked if he'd be willing to move to wide receiver full-time, Cunningham took a couple days to think it over.

He got back to them with three words: "I'm all in."

"At first, I looked at it as like, 'Dang man, I want to be a quarterback,'" Cunningham said on "The Lounge" podcast. "But at the same time, you have to do what's best for the team and that's how I looked at it. I was like, 'Hey, I can make plays for the quarterbacks out there when I get the ball in space.' So I looked at it as a plus, not as a fail.

"I believe in myself and my ability. Yeah, I can play quarterback. But that's now what they need me to do right now. They need me to do something else. I'm the type of guy, whatever it takes for the team to win."

061124 Lounge

624: Malik Cunningham Details Quarterback to Wide Receiver Transition, Lamar Jackson's Influence, Time With Patriots

Ravens WR Malik Cunningham talks about how he's handling his position switch, the advantages and difficulties of going from QB to WR, how Lamar Jackson steered his college career, and much more.

It hasn't been a slow transition. In the battle for the reserve wide receiver spots, Cunningham was among those who stood out most at Ravens Organized Team Activities and minicamp.

When Cunningham gets the play call in the huddle, he hears it as a wide receiver. When he lines up (often in the slot), he's thinking like a quarterback. He said it helps him read defenses and anticipate what the quarterback is thinking. It has also made him a valuable commodity in the receiver room because he can speak from a quarterback's perspective.

"Malik has looked good at wide receiver. He's shown a lot of speed, a lot of quickness. [He's] kind of a natural at the position," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I've seen that he understands the game from the perspective of the quarterback, so [his] routes and coverage and timing and things like that have been excellent."

While he was in New England, Cunningham spoke to other players who made the transition from college quarterback to wide receiver. Julian Edelman was a three-year quarterback at Kent State who played 11 years at wide receiver in the NFL and became one of Tom Brady's most trusted targets. Jakobi Meyers started his college career at N.C. State under center.

Both told Cunningham that even when you make the position switch, you don't lose those quarterback instincts – or spiral. Cunningham says he isn't giving up on quarterback forever, but he's embracing his opportunity to grow in a different way.

Check out who stood out on the practice field during the Ravens' mandatory minicamp.

The situation is different from New England because of Jackson. In Baltimore, there's no shot at playing quarterback unless Jackson (and others) were to get injured. The Ravens also wanted to draft a developmental quarterback and did so in the sixth round with Devin Leary. In New England, Cunningham wondered why he wasn't getting a chance to play quarterback on Sundays given the team's struggles and revolving door under center between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.

"We were losing. I mean, at practice, I was getting reps at quarterback, but then in the game, I only got like three or four plays when we played the Raiders," Cunningham said. "All the older guys wanted me to be in there, but it was on the coach.

"When they saw [me go to Baltimore], they were all boosting it up because they were like, I should have been out there, which I know that and the coaches that was in the building, they knew that too, but it was just higher-ups that it just didn't happen."

While putting his quarterback aspirations on pause isn't easy, Cunningham is taking pride in the fact that what he's doing is difficult and rare.

"It goes back to me not being stubborn," he said. "I have to do what's best for the team, be where my feet are. Maybe they see something else in me."

The Ravens took the field Thursday for mandatory minicamp at the Under Armour Performance Center.

When he was young, sometimes he and his cousin would rotate between playing quarterback and wide receiver. If a long throw was needed, Cunningham would step under center. If not, he went out wide. He hadn't played wide receiver since middle school, and now he's doing it in the NFL.

Cunningham has long operated in Jackson's shadow. But despite Jackson's Heisman Trophy, Cunningham left Louisville as the Cardinals' all-time leader in touchdowns scored with 120 – one more than Jackson. Granted, he played two more seasons, but it's an accomplishment that Cunningham still treasures. Now, even though he's not following Jackson's path at quarterback anymore, Cunningham takes pleasure in excelling on a different path.

"Honestly, I'm gonna just keep it real. Where I grew up, like a lot of us, we're just straight ballers," Cunningham said. "When I got to middle school, I went strictly quarterback, but I've always been athletic. I really, honestly, don't think Lamar can go out there and do that, what I'm doing right now. … There ain't nothing that nobody can say to me that I can't do if I put my mind to it, honestly."

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