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, Tennessee Volunteers
Arian Foster, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /

Arian Foster‘s Tennessee football career on Rocky Top was pretty rocky. As a redshirt freshman, he stepped in after Gerald Riggs Jr.’s season-ending injury in 2005 and drew a lot of eyeballs with his impact play.

The next year, however, he only had 322 rushing yards and had a horrendous fumble against the Penn State Nittany Lions that was returned for a touchdown and cost them the Outback Bowl. In 2007, Foster’s fumble woes took another turn when, against the Florida Gators, he had a fumble that UF returned for a touchdown when it was a one-score game in the second half.

Foster recovered, though, and finished the year with nearly 1,200 yards, 340 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns en route to UT winning the SEC East. As a senior, though, with Dave Clawson as offensive coordinator, he had only 570 yards, two more crucial fumbles and a 5-7 season that got Phillip Fulmer fired. Foster’s up-and-down career and an injury wrecked his NFL Draft stock.

But he did a 180 in the pros as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans. Foster had a league-leading, 1,616 rushing yards and a league-leading 16 touchdowns in 2010. The next year, he had another 1,000-yard season, as the Texans made their first playoff appearance ever.

From 2010 to 2014, Foster had four 1,200-plus yard and 10-plus touchdown seasons. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and made First-Team All-Pro one year. His amazing vision, shiftiness and toughness allowed him to be a very effective player. UT fans only saw the fumbles, but his fumbles were rare when analyzed properly.

Although he retired early and was hampered the latter part of his career due to injury, Foster’s impact as a running back in just 80 career games was incredible. It was enough for him to average 110 total yards a game, rushing and receiving. He was the face of NFL running backs in the early 2010s. That puts him near the top of this list, as he had a way better pro career.