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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Jason Witten, Tennessee Volunteers
Jason Witten, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

We all know the story of how Jason Witten committed to Tennessee football expecting to play defensive end and then begrudgingly flipped to tight end and the request of Phillip Fulmer. Without debate, it worked out. But Witten never got the love he deserved there.

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In 2001, Witten was the No. 2 tight end to John Finlayson, who was a primary blocking tight end.

But Witten still had his moments, including a breakout game against the Alabama Crimson Tide where he had seven receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown and the Citrus Bowl when he caught a pass and outran the entire Michigan Wolverines secondary for a touchdown.

He finished that regular season with 28 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns. In an injury-riddled season in 2002, he led the team in receiving with 39 receptions for 493 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in the sixth overtime to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Witten was a rare talent on the gridiron. He was a 6-foot-6, 265-pound elite blocking tight end who could catch the ball and was also a track runner.

But because the coaches grossly underused him, similar to Butch Jones with Alvin Kamara, he fell to the third round of the NFL Draft. Scouts projected him out to be a lesser version of Jeremy Shockey and had more hype behind Kellen Winslow Jr., coming out of the draft the next year.

Well, how wrong they were. Despite no All-American honors in college, Witten became a Hall-of-Fame caliber player with the Dallas Cowboys. He’ll certainly make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he initially finished his career with 1,152 receptions for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns, top five in all categories, while also being the best blocking tight end with those stats.

Next. Projecting the Vols' 2019 2-deep depth chart. dark

On top of that, Witten was an 11-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro player. He is now back with the Cowboys after retiring for a year, but there’s no denying his career is set in stone. He’s a future Hall of Famer, despite no All-American honors. That’s overachieving and he’s certainly the top overachiever on this list for Tennessee football.