Witten: The next Jeremy Shockey?

Jason Witten ... Jeremy Shockey. The comparisons are inevitable. A year ago, Shockey opted to skip his senior season as Miami's tight end and turn pro. Now he's one of the NFL's premier players as a rookie.

Witten, like Shockey, is a big, rangy tight end with great hands and surprising speed. And, like Shockey, he may be jumping to the NFL rather than sticking around for his senior year of college ball.

Witten, who could be playing his final game for Tennessee when the Vols face Maryland in the Peach Bowl Tuesday night, concedes that Shockey's outstanding performance as an NFL rookie is raising the value of this year's crop of collegiate tight ends. That's especially true for mobile tight ends such as Witten.

''I think so,'' the Vol junior said. ''He's put the tight end of the future on the map. Being as successful as he has will help all of college football's tight ends.''

Interestingly enough, Shockey is one of the players Witten has contacted regarding his draft decision. Witten also has discussed the issue with Pittsburgh Steelers standout Plexico Burress and former Vols Jamal Lewis, Shaun Ellis and Donte' Stallworth. All of the above picked pro ball over their senior season of college ball. How's that for a bad omen?

Witten hastens to add that he also has enlisted the advice of some players who chose to return for their senior seasons, including ex-Vol Peyton Manning. All of the pro players he has talked to have made one point abundantly clear: The NFL is a whole different world.

''It's a business out there,'' Witten said, ''and they just wanted me to know on the front end what that's going to be like.''

The Vol tight end generally does not discuss his pending decision with teammates.

''Guys don't understand what you're going through because they're not faced with it yet,'' he explained. ''The biggest thing you can do is talk to other guys who went through that situation.''

In addition to pro players who faced the same decision, Witten has discussed his college/pro tug-o-war with several family members.

''They obviously want what's best for me,'' he said. ''They're not pushing either way. They'd love for me to stay and be a part of this Tennessee family. But they could use the support, as far as financially, if I went to the NFL.''

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