Tennessee football: 15 Vols who were better in the NFL

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /
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Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Arian Foster, Houston Texans. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Tennessee football has produced lots of NFL talent over the years. Many of those Volunteers were better in the pros than in college. Here are 15 of them.

Even in down years, Tennessee football has made a name for itself in the NFL. There are not always direct links between great players for the Vols and great players in the NFL. Heck, sometimes there aren’t even direct links between great seasons and the level of NFL future talent on a team.

Plenty of players hailing from Rocky Top in the past had better pro careers than collegiate ones. In some cases, the discrepancy was significant. Others, it was less clear, but it was still there. Many of them were understandable.

If you go through the Tennessee football record books, though, you’ll see tons of names who didn’t have significant pro careers. Meanwhile, there are names nowhere to be found on that list when it comes to players who were elite in the pros.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the top 15 Vols who were better in the pros than in college. Our criteria for this post focuses on the accolades they received at both levels. This includes postseason awards and overall recognition.

For the most part, the players on this list reached multiple Pro Bowls but were never achieved All-American honors in college. That’s the main standard for our list in this debate, but there are a few exceptions, which we’ll point out.

The players on this list are a big part of why the Vols look better with their pro talent than they do their college production. After all, UT leads all SEC schools in players to have played in the Super Bowl. They dominated the league from the mid-1980s until this decade in the number of players in the NFL. The Vols only have one national title to show for it.

Meanwhile, three of their five SEC titles during that dominance were either shared or by default because the team that didn’t finish first was on probation. So there’s a clear disparity between college production by the Vols and pro talent, even with their storied history.

Anyway, let’s go ahead and look at the players who are a part of that disparity. These are the 15 Vols who were better in the NFL than they were during their years playing for the Tennessee football program.