Eric Berry Enters NFL Draft: Thanks For Giving Your All For The Tennessee Vols

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 1, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 31:  Safety Eric Berry #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers takes a breather during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Hokies beat the Volunteers 37-14.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Surprise, surprise.

Call it an obvious move. Call it the worst kept secret in Knoxville. Call it whatever you want. But next year you can call Tennessee safety Eric Berry an NFL Rookie.

I cant recall when I knew this was a forgone conclusion. Maybe it was the awards ceremony in Orlando when he said he'd miss the fans. Was it much earlier than that? Like maybe when Lane Kiffin asserted in the preseason that they were treating '09 as if Berry was a senior.

The bottom line is this; Eric Berry is one of the best defensive players in America. He brings so much to the game of football that it's nearly impossible to quantify his value. Quite frankly Berry would have been crazy to come back to Tennessee after this season.

His draft stock cannot get any higher. Some way-to-early draft boards have him No. 1, and zero have him lower than No. 5 overall. Throw in the fact that next season the NFL's salary structure will be uncapped and you have the perfect recipe for one of the greatest player's in your team's history leaving.

Eric Berry has played his tail off for three solid seasons now at Tennessee. He's played hard whether the Vols were winning by 20 or losing by 30.

He's hit guys the same bone-jarring way whether it was the first quarter or whether the game was well in hand late in the fourth quarter.

Berry has led this team through thick ('07 SEC East title) and thin (5-7 in Fulmer's final year '08). He has been the consummate team leader throughout his entire career.

Phillip Fulmer once called him one of the most mature freshmen he had ever been around.

Eric Berry deserves nothing but praise and thanks for the time and effort he put into his Vols career.

As much as Peyton Manning endeared himself to many Vols fans by eschewing the draft's draw until after his senior season in 1997, Eric Berry should receive the same fate and admiration from even the most fanatical Volniac.

Peyton led his team's to a 41-9 record, Berry thrived and excelled while his team's went 21-17 and fired it's longtime head coach in the middle of Berry's tenure.

Eric Berry will forever be one of the greatest players to ever don the orange and white.

I cant wait to watch him on Sunday's next year and for many more years to come.