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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Shaun Ellis, New York Jets
Shaun Ellis, New York Jets. Photo by Jonathan Daniel /Allsport /

Shaun Ellis achieved All-SEC recognition for Tennessee football during his senior year. And he was a major player for the Vols during their 1998 National Championship run, including having a fumble returned for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers.

But his pro career was a more successful story. Ellis enjoyed 11 years with the New York Jets and one with the New England Patriots. He made two Pro Bowl appearances, one in 2003 and the other in 2009.

Notably, he had 8.5 sacks in his rookie season, 12.5 sacks in 2003, 11 sacks in 2004 and another eight sacks in 2009, along with an 11-yard fumble return touchdown that year. He helped the Jets and Rex Ryan to back to back AFC Championship appearances. If you want to know his value, they haven’t made the playoffs since he left after 2010.

All Ellis did was go to New England the next year and help them make a Super Bowl appearance while Tom Brady ended his playoff losing streak, a streak the Jets contributed to when they had Ellis. That’s how much of an elite NFL talent he was.

Ellis was drafted in the first round by the Jets, so the expectations were there, which is why he’s down on this list. But he still had a better pro career overall. It was superb enough to earn him recognition, despite his productive college years. He finished his pro career with 178 tackles, 73.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a touchdown.