RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Prior to the 2019 season, many had written senior safety Nigel Warrior off as a bust. The former four-star recruit and son of former Tennessee and NFL defensive back Dale Carter hadn’t lived up to expectations in his first three years at Tennessee, and many weren’t sure the light would come on in his senior season.
This year, however, Warrior has been anything but a disappointment. Warrior’s performance this season has not only turned heads in Knoxville, but it’s drawn national attention.
The college division of Pro Football Focus, which had named Warrior to the SEC Defensive Team of the Week three times in 2019, named Warrior as a PFF All-American Honorable Mention on Thursday.
In twelve games in the regular season, Warrior has intercepted four passes, which is tied for first in the SEC. In Warrior’s first three seasons as a Vol from 2016 to 2018, he had just one pick, which came in 2017 against Missouri in a 50-17 loss.
Warrior finished the regular season with seven pass breakups — leading all Vols — and finished second on the team in tackles with 68, trailing only linebacker Daniel Bituli. On three occasions, Warrior was named to the PFF All-SEC Team of the Week, earning that honor in outings against UT-Chattanooga, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
In addition to his PFF All-American honorable mention, Warrior garnered PFF All-SEC honors as well, landing a spot on the PFF All-SEC Second Team defense.
Warrior was not the only member of Tennessee’s 2019 squad to receive nods from Pro Football Focus, however. Six fellow Volunteers earned spots either on the PFF All-SEC Second Team or received PFF All-SEC honorable mentions.
Four Vols earned spots on the PFF All-SEC Second Team. Joining Warrior on the second team were senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings, junior offensive guard Trey Smith, and junior placekicker Brent Cimaglia.
On the season, Jennings led all Tennessee wideouts in receiving yards and touchdowns, totaling 942 yards and eight scores. Jennings’ biggest performance of the season came in Tennessee’s 41-21 beatdown of South Carolina. During that game, Jennings dominated the Gamecocks with a 172-yard, two-touchdown performance while also taking snaps as a wildcat quarterback; that performance earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Trey Smith is projected by many as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after Tennessee’s win against Mississippi State. Brent Cimaglia ranks second in the SEC in field goals made, trailing only Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship.
In addition to Warrior, Jennings, Smith, and Cimaglia, two other Vols earned PFF All-SEC honorable mentions, as senior outside linebacker/edge rusher Darrell Taylor and senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway earned All-SEC just missed out on the all-conference teams.
With the exception of Smith and Cimaglia, all of Tennessee’s players who received All-SEC honors from Pro Football Focus were seniors.