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Tennessee football: Why TE Jacob Warren’s return is so valuable for the Vols

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Tight end Jacob Warren’s decision to return for his final year of eligibility, which he announced on Wednesday, should be celebrated by Tennessee football fans for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the obvious. Warren can play. He proved that as a 50/50 starter with Princeton Fant last season. The two swapped out drives throughout the season in a regular rotation.

Fant got more pub thanks to his versatility and stat line. However, Warren could have easily made many of those plays in the passing game for the Vols had the calls gone his way. 

Warren is also a proven blocker on both sides of the tackle box. It remains to be seen to seen if Warren can play some fullback like Fant did. Nevertheless, the Vols have a solid all-around player they can depend on in 2023. There’s more than that.

Warren is an obvious leader for the Vols. When times are tough, he’s likely the player that Tennessee football selects to step behind the podium and answer the tough questions. He’s never failed at that and also provided strong, positive comments about Tennessee’s program via the Vol Report on Off The Hook Sports.

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Warren’s decision to return to Tennessee had to be a tough one. He announced via Off The Hook Sports that he would forgo his final season of eligibility in August. That was a long time ago, before Warren got a taste of competing for a national championship and being a part of a special season.

Warren’s decision to return to play for Tennessee is also symbolic. It was only two years ago that Tennessee football players were trying to leave Knoxville faster than a Hendon Hooker-touchdown pass.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel doesn’t seem like a guy that relies on “safety valves,” but Warren can be that. In fact, he may be as valuable as any of Tennessee’s returning wide receivers in 2024. 

Warren will be asked to master the middle of the field when projected starting quarterback Joe Milton looks to throw. Based on his performance in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, Milton may be more adept at zipping in intermediate passes than Hooker, who was a master at the long ball. Any tight end, but especially Warren, could flourish with Milton. The two already have a strong connection via countless practices with each other.

The league minimum in the NFL is $705,000. Warren has done better than most with NIL. In the way that it was intended, Warren has picked up multiple endorsement deals. However, he’s probably not close to that NFL league minimum. 

Warren’s return is a testament to what Heupel has done. Players were ready to take the first Greyhound out of town following the 2020 season. Now, they’re turning down a big financial bump to stay at Tennessee.

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