Tennessee football: 10 greatest seasons by Vols who didn’t earn All-American honors

Photo by Vincent Laforet /Allsport
Photo by Vincent Laforet /Allsport /
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Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images /

Even in that disastrous 2002 season, Tennessee football had one bright spot. A future NFL star emerged and had the greatest season ever for a tight end in school history. Jason Witten showed flashes of his greatness in 2001.

That year, Witten broke out with a touchdown and over 90 receiving yards against the Alabama Crimson Tide. As a converted defensive end, 2002 was to be his first year as the full-time starter. With Donte Stallworth leaving early for the pros and Kelley Washington getting hurt, Witten became the only consistent offensive weapon.

He was even more crucial after Casey Clausen missed two games. Anyway, Witten ended up leading the team in receiving with 493 yards. He also had five touchdowns, including the game-winning TD in the six-overtime thriller to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks. Amidst a barrage of injuries, the coaches relied on him heavily in the run game as well.

So while a tight end is supposed to be a combination of an offensive lineman and a receiver, Witten became the best receiver and maybe the best offensive lineman on the Vols that year. But he still played under the shadows of Dallas Clark, Bennie Joppru and Kellen Winslow, which is why he fell to the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft. It’s also why he made this list.