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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Jerod Mayo, Tennessee Volunteers
Jerod Mayo, Tennessee Volunteers. Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images /

Honorable Mentions

Doug Atkins, Defensive End

UT: 1950-52; NFL: 1953-69

Just like Reggie White and Peyton Manning, Doug Atkins was an All-American for Tennessee football and then went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career. A two-time NFL champion, eight-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro player who played for the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints, Atkins was the greatest former Vol in the NFL for decades.

However, he was a two-time All-American in college and captured a national title, so there is a limited discrepancy between his college and pro career, which is why we can only give him an honorable mention.

Malik Jackson, Defensive Tackle

UT: 2010-11; NFL: 2012-Present

One of Derek Dooley’s first steals to try to rebuild a wrecked program was luring transfer Malik Jackson away from the USC Trojans. Jackson had a solid career, but it wasn’t his pro career, which took off in 2015 under Wade Phillips with the Denver Broncos.

Jackson only has one Pro Bowl, with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, which is why he’s only an honorable mention. But he was a critical factor in the Broncos’ Super Bowl win, which is another point in his favor. Now with the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s about to play alongside Derek Barnett.

Jerod Mayo, Linebacker

UT: 2005-07; NFL: 2008-15

After playing at outside linebacker for Tennessee football in 2005 and 2006, Jerod Mayo moved to inside linebacker after Marvin Mitchell’s departure in 2007. He became a breakout star and helped the Vols win the SEC East. That stardom allowed him to leave early and be selected by the New England Patriots.

There, Mayo earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, became a two-time Pro Bowler and was a staple of the franchise on that side of the ball before retiring prematurely in 2015, similar to Arian Foster. He’s an honorable mention because his success was somewhat similar, but he’s on the list because he received no All-American honors in college.

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Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner

UT: 2012; NFL: 2013-Present

If Cordarrelle Patterson had been a two or three-year player with the Vols, he might not even have made the list. His one year was a splash year, though, and did show signs of a great future in the NFL. It just wasn’t as great as what he became as a player with the Minnesota Vikings, the Oakland Raiders, the New England Patriots and now the Chicago Bears.

Patterson has been a four-time All-Pro player in the NFL and is a Super Bowl champion. His pro career is better than his one year at Tennessee. The only reason he’s honorable mention is that his major successes are in the return game. So it’s not the same as being a regular starter, but it’s still worth a mention.

Tom Tracy, Running Back

UT: 1953-55; NFL: 1956-64

One of the players who had the misfortune of playing between the Robert Neyland 1950s dynasty and the Bowden Wyatt 1956 legendary team, Tom Tracy was a solid player for Tennessee football for a while. But he received no national recognition.

After two years in the CFL with the Ottawa Rough Riders, Tracy was taken by the Detroit Lions in the fifth round in 1956. He played two years with Detroit, six with the Pittsburgh Steelers and two with the Washington Redskins, making two Pro Bowl appearances with Pittsburgh and winning an NFL Championship with Detroit.