Joe Milton’s College Football Journey From Michigan to Tennessee

    Tennessee QB Joe Milton put on a show at the 2024 NFL Combine, but his path to get there spanned six years and two different programs.

    Tennessee QB Joe Milton wowed onlookers with his arm strength at the 2024 NFL Combine, owning the hardest throw of any participating passer at 62 miles per hour.

    He also effortlessly launched multiple 60-to-70-yard throws in the downfield portion of the throwing drills. Yet, Milton’s path to the annual invitation-only event was long and arduous, spanning six seasons and two programs.

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    Joe Milton’s Roller-Coaster College Football Journey

    A four-star pro-style QB in the 2018 recruiting class, Milton had offers from over 25 programs, including Tennessee, LSU, and Miami. However, the Orlando, Florida native’s top three choices came down to Georgia, Florida, and Michigan. After visiting all three schools, Milton landed on his first college football home: Ann Arbor. He spoke about the decision in more detail in 2020:

    “First, it was the head coach, Coach Harbaugh himself. Then, it was coach Pep [Hamilton] when he was here. We had built a connection, built a relationship, but my main, my main, my main, my main- — I say this every day — it was the snow for me because everywhere in the NFL is cold. I would rather get used to it now than later, and also the education.”

    Milton spent much of his freshman year on the sideline, preserving a redshirt. However, he was the team’s Co-Scout Offensive Team Player of the Year, giving the defense a good stand-in for the QBs they would face. The 2019 season was much of the same, with Shea Patterson handling starting duties, but Milton received his first opportunity in 2020.

    He started five of six games in a COVID-19-shortened campaign, completing 80 of 141 passes for 1,077 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions en route to a 2-3 record. Harbaugh wanted to go in a different direction and installed Cade McNamara with the first team for the final game of the season, signaling the end of Milton’s career at Michigan.

    Transfer Portal Experience and Move to Tennessee

    The following February, Milton entered the transfer portal, and by early April, reports linked the QB to Tennessee. However, at that time, he denied that he had enrolled in the program, asserting that his options were still open, even citing Washington State as another school he was still considering.

    Nevertheless, on April 26, 2021, Milton made the move official with an Instagram post captioned “Let’s work. Home.” Milton maintained that he wanted to finish his education at Michigan before making any official announcement of his transfer to Tennessee.

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    Then-first-year head coach Josh Heupel named Milton the starting QB for his up-tempo offense, but the QB struggled in the first game of the season against Bowling Green, going 11 of 23 for 129 yards and one TD. He started Week 2 against Pittsburgh, but after completing 7 of 12 passes for 50 yards, Milton was injured during a sack.

    Fellow transfer QB Hendon Hooker, who came over after starting two seasons at Virginia Tech, entered the game and never looked back.

    “I went through an injury; that’s what happened when I lost the job,” Milton said during SEC Media Days. “Hendon played his role. He came in and played great. Things happen. When you’re going through this life that we are going through now, things are going to happen. What are you going to do when adversity hits? You got to be able to smile and understand what happened.”

    Once again, Milton was relegated to backup duty, but with two years of eligibility remaining, he decided to stay in Knoxville. The decision worked in his favor, as nearly two years later, Hooker suffered his own injury (a torn ACL), handing the keys of the offense back to Milton. In total, he finished the 2022 season with a 64.6% completion rate, 971 yards, 10 TDs, and zero INTs.

    With Hooker declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft, the stage was set for Milton to start a full season for the first time in his career. Under his guidance, Tennessee went 8-4 and earned a Citrus Bowl berth. He flashed his arm talent and athleticism, throwing for 2,813 yards, 20 TDs, and five INTs while rushing for 299 yards and seven more scores.

    Milton’s play earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl and the 2024 NFL Combine. Although his all-star performance left much to be desired, that didn’t stop him from earning recognition.

    “This year we lost beloved member of the Senior Bowl family, Bryan Ingebrand. In his honor, we created ‘Good Guy Award’, which will be presented yearly to Senior Bowler who was just a great guy behind-scenes,” Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy posted on X (formerly Twitter). “We are proud to announce inaugural winner is Tennessee QB Joe Milton. Appreciate you being such a good dude, Joe. You’ll be a great addition to any NFL QB room!”

    Milton then went on to turn heads in Indianapolis, but when speaking at the event, he said his goal was to let his brain do the talking before his arm.

    “Some people don’t know how smart I am. Just showing what I can do on the board. Showing how our offense from Tennessee can translate but also showing how my Michigan education is very important and how smart I am.”

    KEEP READING: 2024 College Football Players With NFL Fathers

    Where Milton ultimately lands in the 2024 NFL Draft is unknown, but whoever selects the Tennessee QB gets a signal-caller with the arm, character, and perseverance to make an impact in the locker room.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

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