With the transfer portal now closed until later in the spring, Tennessee football has concluded their class ranked as the No. 22 in the country and No. 10 in the SEC. The Volunteers will be bringing in just eight commits from this cycle, while sending 12 out. The eight transfers consist of four three-stars and four four-star players.

Josh Heupel and Tennessee football are no strangers to the portal. In fact, they've been rather consistent, picking up eight commits in each of their last three transfer classes now. Like with any class, whether prospect of transfer, there are hits and misses. But particularly with transfers, there's always something to prove, even more so than a normal recruit.

Most transfers are usually transferring because of a lack of playing time, believing they are being overlooked by other players on the roster. They're out to prove that's not the case, at least they should be. In the Volunteers' eight incoming transfer commits for the 2024 cycle, every one of them you could say has the most to prove, yet there's one in particular who just might have more than others. That being former Notre Dame tight end Holden Staes.

Holden Staes has the most to prove for Tennessee football in 2024

Holden Staes and Tennessee football logo

Holden Staes is a former four-star prospect and the No. 21 tight end in the country and No. 37 player in the state of Georgia. Coming to the Tennessee football program as a transfer, he held on to his four-star status, but was the No. 29 overall player in the portal but No. 2 tight end, according to 247sports.

Though Tennessee Volunteers fans probably looked at Staes' star rating and prospect abilities and got excited, I'd argue that the former Fighting Irish Notre Dame player still has a lot to prove.

Minus one catch for 11 yards his freshman year, Staes' statistics start last season as a sophomore. In 11 games with the Fighting Irish — he missed the final game against Stanford with a shoulder injury — Staes had just 15 receptions for 176 yards at 11.7 yards per catch, with four touchdowns on 369 snaps. This can only mean that Staes has a ton of upside to him, though having four touchdowns in just 15 receptions isn't too shabby at all.

Of course, Staes was behind junior tight end Mitchell Evans all season last year, who had nearly double the numbers. Plus, there was also sophomore Eli Raridon, junior Davis Sherwood, and freshman Cooper Flanagan, who all had some production of their own.

Since Heupel came to Knoxville, as prolific and exciting as his offense has been, the tight end hasn't necessarily been the showcase. Now, is that because the talent hasn't been there or that's just not how his offense is built?

In Heupel's three seasons as the Vols head coach, this is how much he's used the tight end:

  • 2021: 35 receptions, 406 yards, four touchdowns (three players)
  • 2022: 36 receptions, 417 yards, eight touchdowns (three players)
  • 2023: 44 receptions, 538 yards, nine touchdowns (five players)

There has yet to be a Tennessee tight end to eclipse the 300-yard mark during the last three seasons. Again, is that for a lack of talent or is this the system and tight ends are used more for blocking? If that's the case, the Volunteers may have gotten the wrong tight end. Staes as a pass blocker graded 37.7 and 44.3 as a run blocker, with an overall grade of 61.1, according to PFF. His overall grade is just better than last year's Jacob Warren (60.7) but is less than McCallan Castles (65.1).

Tennessee football fans may be excited for their new tight end but they also may need to be hesitant about him as well and the production of a tight end in a modern day college football offense.