Picking the Best Vols in NFL History: Offense

Now that the NFL Draft has been previewed, analyzed and criticized, the time is right to have a little fun with this annual arbitrary acquisition of outstanding athletes.

What if you were building a team of former Vols who went on to enjoy productive pro football careers? Who would you want at each position on the field? Well that's exactly what this scribe did after pursing the outstanding list of Tennessee players that have graced NFL rosters over the ages and I discovered it's not as easy as one might think.

The criteria isn't so concise that it is restrictive as the only qualifier is that the players chosen only had to have made an NFL roster in order to be eligible. That means any UT player that made an NFL team from 1936 to 2002 can be considered, including free agents.

With that brief qualifier concluded, let's forge on with my personal picks for the UT All-Pro team. I discovered that picking some positions are no-brainers but others are extremely difficult. Of course there are no wrong choices just personal opinions which might set off some lively debates.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning. How can anyone argue with this one. In his first five seasons Manning has passed for more yardage than any QB in NFL history over the same time frame. His totals are a mind-numbing 1749 of 2817 (62.1 percent) 20,618 yards and 138 touchdowns. In his first five years in the League, Manning has passed for twice as many yards as all other former UT QBs to ever play in the NFL combined. Incidentally, the former Vol quarterback with the longest tenure in the NFL was Pat Ryan who played 13 years mostly as a backup. Ironically, Ryan only started one game in his four years at Tennessee.

Running backs: Although there are no pure fullbacks to merit strong consideration, there are plenty of feature backs with Tennessee roots. My choices are Charlie Garner and Travis Henry. Garner gets the nod for his versatility and big-play ability. He broke the 1,000 yard mark in total offense for three teams including: Philadelphia, San Francisco and in Oakland last year where he nearly compiled 1,000 yards both receiving and rushing.

Travis Henry has established himself as one of the NFL's best backs in just two seasons in Buffalo. He rushed for over 1,400 yards last season and also proved to be a more effective receiver out of the backfield than anyone suspected when he was drafted in the second round by the Bills. Henry edges out the more talented Jamal Lewis for his durability. Lewis who had problems staying healthy at UT has missed over half of his games in Baltimore in three years. Another worthy pick would be James Stewart but his tendency to fumble in big games cost him a spot on this team.

Wide receivers: Stanley Morgan, Carl Pickens and Anthony Miller. This trio had it all and proved it a combined 31 years in the NFL. Morgan played 13 of those years, spanning three decades and was selected All-Pro for New England in 1980, 1981, 1987 and 1988. Morgan is the only receiver to average over 20 yards per catch during his first six seasons in the NFL and he reached 10,000 yards faster than any receiver in League history. A clutch performer with great hands and speed, Morgan scored 39 touchdowns in his career at Tennessee and as a 180-pound tailback was the first Vol to rush for over 200 yards in a game. Although many younger UT fans don't remember Morgan, he was arguably the best athlete to ever play for the Vols.

Miller transferred to Tennessee out of junior college and, like Morgan, played during a period when the Vols weren't nearly as talented as earlier or later squads. Miller made the NFL's All-Pro team five times for San Diego and finished his career with 595 catches for 9,148 yards and 48 touchdowns. Another Vol pass catcher with blinding speed and very strong hands. Miller played nine years in the NFL including two seasons with Denver and and one with Dallas.

Carl Pickens probably only realized his full potential during two seasons in the NFL and made All-Pro both of those seasons. In 1995 Pickens caught 99 passes for 1,234 yards and 17 touchdowns in 1995 for Cincinnati and in 1996 caught 100 passes for 1,180 yards and 12 touchdowns. Finished his career with 540 catches for 7,129 yards and 63 touchdowns including four seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving. By the way, Pickens was the first Vol to leave UT early for the NFL where he was taken in the second round after questions surfaced about his attitude. The 6-2, 190-pound Pickens was named the American Conference's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1992 and averaged 13.2 yards per reception for his career. Injuries caught up with former North Carolina high jump champion by the time he was signed as a free agent by the Tennessee Titans and his career came to a premature end the next season.

Offensive line: This is the toughest unit to choose because, as was mentioned in an article written last week for this site, Tennessee hasn't had nearly the success placing offensive linemen in the NFL as it has receivers, runners, linebackers or defensive linemen. This group is largely chosen on proven performance over a long period of time which is the most fair way to evaluated linemen. If it was based on potential alone, both Cosey Coleman and Fred Weary would be pushing for a place up front.

Center: Bob Johnson was the first player ever drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, who were coached then by the legendary Paul Brown, and No. 2 overall in the 1968 NFL Draft. Johnson became the anchor of a line that jelled quickly and helped lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 1970. The former Vol All-American played a rock solid 11 years for the Bengals.

Guards: John Gordy and Raleigh McKenzie.

Though undersized by today's standards Gordy played during an era when NFL players had to be tougher than nails and meaner than snakes. Gordy had an 11-year career with the Detroit Lions and was named All-Pro three consecutive seasons; 1963, 1964 and 1965.

Mckenzie wasn't drafted until the 10th round by the Washington Redskins but became an vital part of the Hogs from 1986 to 1994. McKenzie was a very versatile linemen who saw playing time at both guard and center. He played a total of 15 seasons including two each with Philadelphia, San Diego and Green Bay. He also collected a pair of Super Bowl rings and NFL titles with Washington.

Tackles: Tim Irwin and Bruce Wilkerson.

Irwin played 14 years for the Minnesota Vikings and was named to the franchise's 40th Anniversary team. A durable performer with great size an strength, Irwin only missed two starts in his first 10 years in the League and was a dominate force up front.

Wilkerson enjoyed an 11-year career in the NFL including eight years for the Raiders. A second round draft choice in 1987, he played both guard and tackle and was one of the most athletic O-Linemen to ever play for the Vols. Wilkerson also played two seasons each for Jacksonville and Green Bay.

Place kicker: Fuad Reviez was drafted in the seventh round by Miami and played 10 years in the NFL making all-pro teams three times. Reviez almost single-footedly kept UT afloat in 1984 with his long range accuracy. Also holds the Tennessee record with a 60-yard field goal against Georgia Tech in 1984.

Next we'll take a look at the choices for the defensive unit. Check back for the rundown a little later on.

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