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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Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Volunteers
Albert Haynesworth, Tennesee Volunteers. Photo by Craig Jones /Allsport /

He joined Tennessee football in 1999, coming off their national championship season, and immediately turned heads as a freshman. Albert Haynesworth had the potential to be elite on Rocky Top.

However, throughout his time there, he played in John Henderson’s shadow. Henderson was a partial qualifier on the 1998 team due to academic reasons. He stepped in for Billy Ratliff early in 1999, though, and never lost his starting job.

In 2000 and 2001, Henderson became beloved as a back-to-back All-American, an Outland Trophy winner a guy who openly decided to return for his senior season when he didn’t have to. On that elite defensive line, even Will Overstreet was a bigger deal than Haynesworth in college.

So when the NFL Draft came, it was no surprise that Henderson went before Haynesworth. And Henderson, to be fair, is a better leader and had a very good pro career himself with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Haynesworth’s pro career was elite.

Selected by the Tennessee Titans, Haynesworth immediately helped get them back to the playoffs in 2002, and he did it again in 2003. In the mid-to-late 2000s, he became a rare defensive tackle who was the driving force behind a team. Haynesworth had six sacks and eight and a half sacks in 2007 and 2008, was All-Pro both years and could have been NFL MVP in 2008.

After those years, Haynesworth turned that production into a $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins. Sure, by that standard, he became a bust. But he still outperformed his college years. After having the best record in the NFL with him in 2008, the Titans would not make the playoffs for another nine years after he left Nashville.