Best of the decade: TEs

This is the fifth in a series of articles ranking Tennessee's best players of the decade 2000-2009. Today's focus: Tight ends.

1. JASON WITTEN: He started for just one year, 2002, but he was so productive that season that he is viewed by some as the best tight end in program history. Moving from defensive end to tight end at midseason, Witten caught just one pass as a freshman in 2000. He reeled in 28 balls for 293 yards as a sophomore, then 39 for 493 yards and 5 touchdowns as a junior. After posting 68 career catches for 797 yards (11.7 per catch) and 7 touchdowns, he declared for the NFL Draft and skipped his senior year. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, he also was a pretty good blocker.

2. LUKE STOCKER: He still has a year of eligibility remaining but Stocker already earned this lofty ranking. Like Witten, he is the kind of versatile tight end who can stretch a defense. The 6-6, 253-pounder caught just four passes as a backup in 2007 but reeled in 13 for 139 yards as a sophomore starter in '08 and 29 for 389 yards (13.4 per catch) and 5 TDs as a junior starter last fall. Stocker's three-year totals show him with 22 fewer catches (46) and 258 fewer yards (539) than Witten but lanky Luke has scored almost as many touchdowns (6 versus 7) and has matched Witten's 11.7 yards-per-catch average. Stocker is improving as a blocker and could be primed for a big senior year.

3. CHRIS BROWN: A starter in 2005 and 2006, the sure-handed Brown caught more passes than any Vol tight end of the decade (92) but averaged a modest 8.0 yards per catch. He reeled in 31 balls as a junior and 41 as a senior, scoring 6 touchdowns in the latter. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he was athletic enough to get open and tough enough to be a decent blocker. He was a very productive player who simply lacked the big-play dimension provided by Witten and Stocker.

4. JOHN FINLAYSON: After serving as the chief backup on Tennessee's 1998 national title team, Big John started in 1999, 2000 and 2001. A tenacious blocker, the 6-4, 275-pounder had surprisingly good hands but lacked the quickness and elusiveness to be a consistent receiving threat. As a result, his three years as a starter produced just 16 career receptions, 182 yards and two touchdowns.

5. BRAD COTTAM: Hampered by a rash of injuries in college, the 6-7, 265-pounder started just 10 games - six as a junior and four as a senior. On those rare occasions when he was healthy, however, he proved to be one of the most dangerous tight ends in college football. He caught only two passes as a sophomore and five as a senior but sandwiched those injury-plagued seasons around a junior year which saw him catch 14 balls for 182 yards. Although he finished his college career with just 21 receptions, his 16.2 yards-per-catch averaged convinced the Kansas City Chiefs to select him in Round 3 of the 2008 NFL Draft.

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