Tennessee has had a former football player on nine consecutive Super Bowl winning teams. Think about that. The last time a Vols’ player wasn’t celebrating a Super Bowl victory was in 2009 when the Steelers beat the Cardinals, 27-23, to win Super Bowl XLIII.
While next year’s Super Bowl winner isn’t an easy prediction, there are plenty of former Tennessee players around the NFL whose teams have a shot at making the final game of the season. There are no Vols (currently) on Bill Belichick’s New England squad, so that’s something to watch going forward. With that being said, here are the Vols for Life who have the best chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and extending the streak to 10 next year.
Honorable Mention: S Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry might be the only Vol left in Kansas City to usher in the Patrick Mahomes era. Quarterback Tyler Bray, offensive lineman Zach Fulton and longtime Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt are all free agents this offseason. It’s not certain that Bray will be re-signed, even after the Alex Smith trade. Kansas City probably won’t be able to afford the versatile Fulton, who can play both guard and center. As for Colquitt, the Chiefs haven’t had to worry about a punter since 2005, but at 35 years old, his time in Kansas City is all but over.
10. WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OL James Stone — Oakland Raiders
Now that the #Grumors have finally been laid to rest, new Oakland coach Jon Gruden can focus on returning the Raiders to the playoffs. After an extremely disappointing 6-10 season, the Raiders will look to bounce back to the playoff team they were in 2016. The talent is there, but it all depends on Derek Carr’s ability to stay healthy.
The explosive VFL Patterson finished the season with 31 receptions for 309 yards and no touchdowns. Patterson led the Raiders with 19 kick returns for for 538 yards, but again didn’t record a touchdown. James Stone only appeared in 2 games for the Raiders in 2017.
9. LS Morgan Cox — Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens always find a way to sneak into the playoffs, but does anyone actually consider them a legitimate contender? Baltimore has a strong defense, but its offense finished No. 27 in the league in total yards. Two-time All-Pro long snapper Morgan Cox might have chance to win another ring, but it seems highly unlikely. However, the Ravens do tend to surprise us, so anything could happen.
Also, is Joe Flacco elite?
8. TE Luke Stocker — Tennessee Titans
The two-toned blue Titans turned heads after completing a comeback win at Kansas City in the Wild Card Round. With Mike Vrabel and new coordinators Dean Pees and Matt LaFleur leading the new coaching staff, it will be exciting to see how the Marcus Mariota develops. Maybe they will hand the reigns over to Derrick Henry in the backfield, too. The uncertainty of the new coaching staff makes me rank the Titans this low.
Luke Stocker appeared in three games for the Titans, recording 1 reception for 12 yards. Stocker also spent some time at fullback.
7. DB Justin Coleman — Seattle Seahawks
This could be the last ride for the once-immortal Seahawks. Injuries and player age may cause Seattle to make moves this offseason, and the locker room with definitely be an issue to watch. Russell Wilson needs help offensively and the offensive line needs a complete overhaul. I’m banking on Seattle re-establishing their identity and making one more postseason run, even if it means moving on from Sherman, Chancellor or Bennett.
Justin Coleman was a bright spot for Seattle last season. Coleman appeared in all 16 games and started in five of those. The former Vol also returned two interceptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns while racking up 25 tackles.
6. TE Jason Witten — Dallas Cowboys
Would this truly be a prediction for next year without overrating the Cowboys? Of course not, which is exactly why I ranked Witten and “America’s Team” so high.
After a less than-stellar-season, the Cowboys should return to the playoffs in 2018. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarcus Lawrence headline a very talented young roster. That’s not to mention Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Jason Witten and Byron Jones as well. There should be no excuse for Dallas to miss the playoffs — unless Elliot gets suspended again.
Jason Witten is still getting it done. He saw his targets, receptions and receiving yards decline, but he was able to haul in five touchdowns this season. The former Vol is still a more-than-capable tight end, and he’ll continue to produce until he decides to call it quits.
5. P Michael Palardy — Carolina Panthers
It’s time to show love to the punter. The Panthers improved on their 6-10 season in 2016 by going 11-5 and losing in the Wild Card round. Carolina returns a defense, anchored by elite linebacker Luke Kuechly, that only gave up seven rushing scores all season. Cam Newton still found a way to throw for 3,302 yards and 22 touchdowns with a misfit group of receivers. The return of Greg Olsen next year will only give Cam another touchdown machine.
Palardy punted 71 times for an average 46 yards per punt with a long of 63 yards during the season. Hey, punters are people, too.
4. OL Ramon Foster, QB Joshua Dobbs, DB Cameron Sutton — Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have a lot of questions heading into next season: Will Le’Veon Bell re-sign? Will Big Ben retire? What should Pittsburgh do if faced with starting Landry Jones? Obviously losing Bell and Roethlisberger would turn the Steelers into the Arizona Cardinals, but I think both of them are returning. Like every season, the trio of Roethlisberger, Bell and Antonio Brown will be playing late into January.
As much as I’d love for Dobbs and Sutton to get some playing time, the only player with a significant impact on the Steelers is Ramon Foster. Foster started 14 games on the offensive line this season before being placed in concussion protocol. Foster has started at guard for Pittsburgh since the 2011 season and has been a huge part of their success.
Justin Hunter and Daniel McCullers were on Pittsburgh’s roster last season, but they are currently free agents.
3. DT Malik Jackson, TE Mychal Rivera — Jacksonville Jaguars
Sorry, Titans fans, the Jaguars are still the best team in the AFC South. The heartbreaking loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship will only fuel the fire in the young Jaguars. Blake Bortles didn’t hurt them and Leonard Fournette is a monster. The Jaguars will return everyone from their No. 1 ranked defense, including Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Barry Church, Marcell Dareus and former Vol Malik Jackson.
Jackson is a key cog in the defensive machine. He started every game and notched eight sacks along with 31 tackles and four forced fumbles.
Rivera had been out since July 31 with a hand injury. He was played on the injured reserve at the beginning of the season and did not play this year.
2. RB Alvin Kamara, TE Alex Ellis — New Orleans Saints
Without the unbelievable ending to the NFC Championship, we may have geared up to watch the Saints in the Super Bowl. Of course, New Orleans would have had to win at Philly, but that Saints team could have knocked off the Eagles. Alas, that didn’t happen, so we didn’t get to see national treasure Alvin Kamara play in the Super Bowl.
Drew Brees is a free agent, but will re-sign. The Saints have all the talent and firepower on offense to play with anyone. Pair that with a solid, young defense, and you get a legitimate contender.
By now, everyone knows about Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara and his ability to do, well, anything. His record-breaking rookie year has him on track for yet another explosive season.
Alex Ellis did not play last year for the Saints, but received a reserve/future deal with a chance to make the roster next season.
1. DE Derek Barnett — Philadelphia Eagles
Maybe Super Bowl LII was the end of the Patriots’ dynasty and the beginning of the Eagles’ dynasty. I expect some team to trade for Nick Foles this offseason, but Carson Wentz will lead this team to Atlanta next year.
Tennessee’s career sack leader came up with one half of the most important play of the game on Sunday — a fumble recovery after the game’s only sack. Barnett was one of the most impressive rookies this year, but his fumble recovery marked him down in football history. He recorded five sacks in his first year in the league.