2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Tyjae Spears (Fantasy Football)

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Tyjae Spears isn’t one of those blue-chip guys like Bijan Robinson that you accrue early first-round dynasty draft picks years in advance for, or the sort of rookie you throw a high pick at in redraft leagues. Spears has, however, become a riser both in terms of real NFL draft circles and fantasy. His production profile, athleticism scores, and film have bumped him into late second or third-round territory for the NFL draft. This is a range that would indicate that whichever team drafts him plans on giving him a significant role, if not the primary role in an RBBC. If he slides into the fourth round or later, we might have to revisit his profile and/or likely role with his new team.

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.

College Production Profile

Coming out of high school in Louisiana, Spears was a three-star recruit that considered offers from Southern Mississippi and Texas State, but eventually enrolled at Tulane where he played for four years.

Efficient, though not entirely productive through the first two years at Tulane, Spears barely saw the field while buried on a roster chock-full of RBs and a run game that featured their QBs as much as their RBs. His 2020 season was cut short by his second ACL tear (the first occurred early in his high school career), but he returned to the field in time for the Tulane matchup against Oklahoma.  His boxscores got…weirder from there.

Spears received less than 10 touches in the first six games of the 2021 season and totaled just 24 rushes for 116 yards. Included in those first six games were matchups against Oklahoma and Mississippi where he rushed 12 times for a paltry 35 yards and only six yards on three receptions.

Following his slow start, he exploded over the final seven games of the season resulting in 747 yards on 105 carries, closing out the season against Memphis with 30 rushes for 264 yards and two TDs (somehow Tulane lost the game despite Spears’ heroics). You would think Tulane would have given him a huge role for the 2022 season, but Spears had yet another slow start.

Then 2022 started with three games where Spears only saw 28 total touches although he still managed four TDs on those limited opportunities. He finally saw an expanded workload in the fourth game against Southern Mississippi with 22 carries that he translated into 114 yards and two TDs. Somewhat unique to his profile were five receptions for 74 additional yards that he added in that same game.

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His next game against Houston was a bit of a dud from a rushing perspective with only 54 yards on 14 carries, but he gained a whopping 85 yards and a TD on six receptions. Despite the work through the air on these back-to-back games, Spears only had more than three receptions one other time.

His next game against East Carolina was disappointing with 16 carries that only went for 53 yards and his two receptions only produced four yards. And then, just as in 2021, Spears went bananas. He finished the last eight games of the season with 151 carries producing 1,269 yards and 13 rushing TDs. That works out to an average of 159 yards rushing per game and 8.4 yards per carry. As impressive as he was rushing, his receiving work plummeted, never again gaining more than 20 yards receiving or more than one reception in any game. These efforts were still good enough to be named First-team All-AAC and AAC Offensive Player of the Year.

He also earned a Cotton Bowl MVP after he beat up USC to the tune of 205 yards rushing and four TDs.

All of this led to a lot of questions. Why was he an afterthought in the passing game through all four years with the exception of a few explosive games? Why was he not given a larger workload earlier? Why was he shut down in so many games? Why did he start so slow in back-to-back years only to explode to close out the season? And finally, no seriously, how do you lose when your RB gains 264 yards on 30 carries!?


Height Weight Age 40-Yard Dash Broad Jump Vertical
5′10″ 201 lbs 21.8 4.54 sec 125″ 39″

These measurables are pretty meh. An RB at 201 lbs is on the lighter side, but plenty of RBs have succeeded with that weight. I’m a little skeptical of that weight since some sites have his weight as low as 175, so his play weight is a bit of a mystery. The good numbers are his broad and vertical jumps. Those scores are indicative of an explosive RB, which does show up on tape.

What’s On Tape

Games viewed: Memphis (2021), Houston (2022), UCF (2022), Cincinnati (2022), USC (2022)

1. Spears has elite burst and agility

Good vision combined with an exceptional ability to accelerate and decelerate makes Spears dangerous in open space. His agility combined with good contact balance makes tackles aimed at his legs more tricky than you would expect from a smaller back.

2. He almost never gets hit head-on

One interesting thing about Spears’ tape is how he rarely gets hit straight on. He’s not a very powerful back, but he’s exceptional at using leverage and his agility to manipulate the defender out of a direct hit, which allows him to gain an extra half or whole yard in the process of a tackle.

It’s not exactly sexy since he will go down, but on 100 touches, that extra effort at the end of a play adds up to 50 extra yards. Below is an example. It’s not a 50-yard run or an extra push into the endzone, but it is a little extra yardage that he steals from the defense.

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3. His hands look solid

Tulane found great success when using Spears as a receiver, but they never did it consistently. Judging hands is tricky especially when the opportunities are few and far between, but he appeared comfortable as a receiver. I’m dubious about how much one-on-one drills reveal about route running, but Spears puts on a filthy move at the Senior Bowl. The following play is also a microcosm of everything I like about Spears.

Spears seems natural catching the ball and his routes look solid. I’m conflicted about whether to promote him as a pass-catching specialist, but the limited work he put on tape looked good to me. I love this particular play because it’s everything we need out of an NFL RB.

It’s not a home run. It’s the sort of ho-hum play that sustains drives and puts teams in scoring territory. Spears transitions from the catch into making a defender miss (leg tackle…big no-no vs. Spears) and makes that quick cut that leads to a little extra yardage. It’s also an example of straight-line speed that wasn’t necessarily demonstrated in athletic testing. I’m convinced Spears is one of those players whose play speed is faster than what was posted in testing.

What’s Not on Tape

1. Play strength

Spears does not have the play strength to be useful in fantasy. I like him a lot, but he needs 5-7 targets at a minimum to put up enough PPR points just to be startable. He simply won’t offer much in the run game to be relied on and he’s an absolute nothing in short-yardage situations and in the end zone.

Worse, pass protection was non-existent in his tape. The few plays where he participated in pass protection were more of a rub while swinging out in a route. He’s simply too light to reliably pass-protect at the NFL level.

Fantasy Outlook

This isn’t always the case, but I like Spears as a player a lot more than as a fantasy asset. Any team that drafts him will benefit from giving him 5-8 touches in a game including special teams. He’s extremely agile with insane burst and play speed that will make him a valuable member of NFL teams for years. That said, there are very few scenarios where he’s useful for fantasy football. He’s going to be a third member of a running back by committee situation. As soon as one of the backs in front of him leaves the team due to injury or whatever other reason, they are likely to bring in someone else to handle a large number of touches.

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Pass on him as a fantasy asset, but be glad if a team you support drafts him.

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