Tennessee Football: 8 Best Recruits from the BCS Era
Elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie's commitment to Tennessee on July 10 was a huge get for the Volunteers, and he joins a long list of standout athletes who chose to spend their college careers in Knoxville.
Throughout most of his tenure as head coach of the Vols, Phillip Fulmer was widely regarded as a top-notch recruiter who pulled in elite talent to Rocky Top. In fact, he inked the No. 2-ranked class in 2002, the No. 4-ranked class in 2005 and the No. 3-ranked class in 2007, per Rivals.
Lane Kiffin also managed to assemble classes that were highly ranked (but ultimately full of busts), landing the Vols at No. 10 in the 2009 team rankings. Derek Dooley salvaged much of the No. 9-ranked 2010 class after Kiffin's departure, but his classes slid down the rankings each year after that.
Now that Butch Jones is working on his third class as head coach of the Volunteers and stocking it with talented players, it's time to take a look back at some of Tennessee's most elite recruits. These men established themselves at all three levels of the game: high school, college and professional.
1998: John Henderson
Big John Henderson is perhaps the last truly dominant defensive tackle to play at Tennessee. A high school All-American and the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee as a senior at Nashville's Pearl-Cohn high school, he headlined the Volunteers' 1998 class.
His accolades and acclaim in high school immediately transferred to the SEC, as Henderson was twice named an All-SEC and All-American player in 2000 and 2001. He also won the Outland Trophy in 2000 as the nation's best interior defensive lineman.
Henderson went on to have a solid career in the NFL, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2006 before retiring in 2012.
1999: Albert Haynesworth
As dominant as Henderson was at Tennessee, he relied on the equally talented Albert Haynesworth to help him clog the middle of the line of scrimmage.
Coming out of high school in Hartsville, South Carolina, Haynesworth was rated as high as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country by some recruiting publications.
At Tennessee, he was a freshman All-American in 1999 and was named to the All-SEC second team in 2001.
Like Henderson, Haynesworth also made two Pro Bowl trips in the NFL and was named Sporting News Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2008.
2000: Jason Witten
One of the best tight ends in the NFL was originally a Tennessee Volunteer.
Jason Witten, a native of Elizabethton, Tennessee, decided to stay in state and play for the Vols as part of Phillip Fulmer's 2000 recruiting class. A high school All-American and USA Today Player of the Year in the state of Tennessee, Witten became a force at the tight end position during his junior season on Rocky Top.
That year, he set school records at tight end for receptions and yardage, hauling in 39 catches for 493 yards and five touchdowns.
As a professional football player, he has played for the Dallas Cowboys since 2003, is a nine-time Pro Bowler and currently has the second-most catches of any tight end in NFL history.
2003: Robert Meachem
Rated a 5-star recruit by Rivals in 2003 and the top player in the state of Oklahoma, Robert Meachem was one of Phillip Fulmer's last great recruiting coups.
After suffering a knee injury during his senior season in high school, Meachem redshirted in 2003 and played well during Tennessee's 2004 and 2005 seasons.
As a redshirt junior in 2006, however, he established himself not only as one of the top wide receivers in the SEC but in all of college football.
His 71 catches, 1,298 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns earned him All-SEC and All-American honors.
Aside from one year with the San Diego Chargers in 2012, Meachem has played his entire professional career with the New Orleans Saints, where he was part of the franchise's Super Bowl-winning team in 2009.
2004: Arian Foster
Arian Foster's career at Tennessee was full of ups and downs.
After arriving on campus without much fanfare, the 3-star recruit redshirted in 2004. As a redshirt freshman in 2005, he carried the ball 183 times for 879 yards.
Although injuries sidelined him for much of the 2006 season, he bounced back in a big way in 2007 to the tune of nearly 1,200 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, a dismal senior year under a new offensive coordinator meant Foster's production dropped dramatically, and he went undrafted in the 2009 NFL draft before being picked up as a free agent by the Houston Texans.
In the years since, however, Foster has established himself as one of the league's best running backs, leading the league in rushing yards in 2010.
2007: Eric Berry
Eric Berry, son of former Vols running back and team captain James Berry, committed to Tennessee as part of the 2007 recruiting class.
A 5-star recruit and the No. 3-ranked player in the country, according to Rivals, Berry made an immediate impact in the Tennessee secondary.
As a true freshman, he racked up 222 return yards on five interceptions and notched 86 tackles for the season. His legend at Tennessee only grew from there, as he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and a unanimous All-American in 2008 and 2009.
Berry capped off his college career at Tennessee by winning the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's best college defensive back.
Now in the NFL, he shows no signs of slowing down his dominance in the defensive backfield, with three Pro Bowl invitations and 216 career tackles in just three full seasons.
2010: Justin Hunter
Rated the No. 4 wide receiver in the country by 247Sports, Justin Hunter's 2010 commitment to Tennessee and head coach Derek Dooley over schools like LSU, Florida and Alabama brought a great deal of optimism back to Rocky Top.
After he had a freshman season full of acrobatic catches and body-contorting touchdown grabs, expectations were sky high for Hunter and fellow sophomore Da'Rick Rogers in 2011. However, Hunter's season was cut short when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament against the Florida Gators on Sept. 17, 2011.
Despite missing the rest of the 2011 season, Hunter made a full recovery from his injury and had an outstanding season as a junior in 2012, catching 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.
As an NFL rookie with the Tennessee Titans in 2013, Hunter caught a game-winning touchdown against the San Diego Chargers and will likely log significant minutes in 2014.
2012: Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most talented athletes to ever play for the Tennessee Vols.
A 5-star player and 247Sports' top-ranked JUCO recruit in the country, Patterson committed to Derek Dooley and the Vols in the summer of 2012.
Patterson was introduced to the world during Tennessee's season-opening game against North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome on Aug. 31, 2012.
He not only blew past All-American David Amerson to catch a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bray, but he also created one of the most electrifying plays in recent Vols history on his 67-yard end-around touchdown run.
Despite the Vols' 5-7 record during Patterson's only season on Rocky Top, his highlight-reel plays and kick returns made him a first-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
As a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, he was invited to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and is poised to play a major role in the team's offense in 2014.