Brad Cottam's Tennessee career got off to an agonizingly slow start. The 6'8" 270-pound tight end redshirted in 2003, and in 2004 he had two catches for 34 yards. Yes, for the entire season. But hey, his 2005 stat sheet indicates that he had . . . one special teams tackle. Oh, and he was named to the Academic All-SEC Team, so, you know, yeehaw for tackles and brains.
Things started to pick up for Cottam in 2006, though. After catching only two passes in his first 28 games, Cottam's role in the offense was gradually expanded as the season progressed, and he started four of the last five games of the year. He finished the season with 14 catches for 182 yards, including a 45-yarder against Vanderbilt.
Despite Cottam's running-in-quicksand start, by 2007 even the coaching staff ;-) realized that Brad Cottam not only had enormous size, but enormous talent and potential as well. Adding to the intrigue going into 2007 was the fact that Erik Ainge's three favorite receivers -- Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, and Bret Smith -- had all either graduated or opted out early for the NFL. Without any other proven receivers on the roster, Ainge and the offensive play-callers figured to rely heavily on Brad Cottam and the other tight ends.
And then, a week before the season's first game, Cottam went down with a significant wrist injury, and he would end up missing the bulk of his promising senior year. He did not return to action until the 10th game against Arkansas and even then wasn't involved in the offense. But against Kentucky in the final game of the regular season and with a trip to the SEC Championship on the line, he made an extraordinary 59-yard catch and run to help the Vols pull out the victory. Then, in the SEC Championship Game the following week, he caught two passes for 28 yards in a gritty but losing effort. He scored his first career touchdown on a 31-yard reception against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
Brad Cottam had precious few opportunities to showcase his talent while at Tennessee, but when he had a chance, he absolutely shined. Anyone concerned about the small sample size need only look at Cottam's exceptional performances in the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, and Tennessee's Pro Day to see that his terrific woo-to-opportunity ratio was not a fluke.
I mean, come on. The guy is 6'8" and 270 pounds. He has a three-foot vertical leap, can catch as well as any wide receiver, and can even outrun secondaries. What else could an NFL team want?