From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Tulane RB Tyjae Spears.
#22 Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane (SR) – 5095, 204LBS
Senior Bowl Invite
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Tyjae Spears||5’9 204lbs||10||30 5/8||74|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Patient runner that allows his blocks to form in front of him
— Superb vision to find the correct lane and cut upfield
— Doesn’t dance behind the LOS; finds his gap and gets north and south immediately
— Has the speed to catch the edge on outside runs, with the wisdom to cut upfield if a gap presents itself
— Has great ability to create positive yards for himself if his blocking breaks down
— Gritty runner, doesn’t shy away from contact and seemingly always falls forward
— Dangerous in the open field with diverse arsenal to elude or break tackles
— Solid as a receiver with clear potential to become more dangerous
— Narrow frame cause for durability concerns
— Lacks experience in pass protection, often subbed out in obvious passing situations
— Doesn’t possess breakaway speed
— Average explosion through the hole and off his cut upfield
— Birthday: June 15, 2001 (21 years old)
— Three-star recruit out of Louisiana
— Majored in Health and Wellness
— Capped his final season at Tulane with eight straight games of 100+ yards rushing
— Saved his best performance for last, rushing for 205 yards and 4 touchdowns on 17 carries against USC in Cotton Bowl, winning Offensive MVP of the game
— 2022 season earned him AAC Offensive Player of the Year: 213 carries, 1,528 yards and 19 touchdowns with 20 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns
— Career Stats: 411 carries for 2,857 yards and 31 touchdowns with 46 receptions for 560 yards and three touchdowns
It certainly doesn’t take long to realize why Tyjae Spears is one of the sharpest risers in the 2023 NFL Draft Class when you turn on his tape. He’s not overly dynamic, but he’s a consistent runner that plays the position by the books to ensure he always gains as much positive yardage as possible.
Tulane had a fantastic 2022 season, climbing from 2-10 in 2021 to an 11-2 finish with an AAC Championship and a Cotton Bowl victory over USC, so much of which was possible because of Sharp’s ability to keep the Green Wave offense on schedule and make splash plays at opportune times.
That said, Tulane’s offensive line played its part, creating potent rushing lanes for its star tailback on a consistent basis. However, what will always separate good backs from great ones is the ability to create yardage for himself. This is a profound trait for Spears as he climbs to the NFL ranks.
Watch here against Cincinnati as the Bearcats blow up this play at the line of scrimmage, but Spears has the agility to bounce the run, plant his foot in the ground, strike upfield and bowl forward to create 3rd and inches.
This ability usually boils down to two things: vision and decision-making. Spears routinely makes the right decision once he finds his lane, displaying ample understanding of his blockers’ assignments and how he can maximize his yardage gains.
Back against Cincinnati. Tulane runs a counter to the weak side with two pulling blockers. Spears plays tight to the LOS as he follows his tight end to daylight before pouncing upfield, bursting through the hole and eluding the safety to secure the first down.
Similar situation and play design, though this time against SMU, Spears shows off his strength, power and determination as he cuts back inside and reaches across the goal line.
He’s a zone runner that clearly understands multiple blocking schemes and how to get the most out of the play as it unfolds. However, I will point out that while he’s decisive and sure-minded to make good decisions, the burst and explosion when he plants his cut upfield is average at best. He isn’t exploding quite as much as you’d like to see as he heads to the NFL where gaps close much quicker than the AAC.
Still, his mind is such a strength of his. He’s patient to allow his blocking to develop, playing tight to his linemen and seeing his optimal path.
See here against Cincinnati once again. Spears doesn’t rush his decision, gets tight with his pulling tight end and weaves upfield to pick up max yardage before contact.
His presence of mind to remain patient and trust the play design is what creates the bulk of his explosive plays. Two examples here, the first against UCF, the second against USC. Spears follows the natural flow of the play and accelerates quickly into the second level of the defense.
You’ll notice, Spears isn’t breaking away with a third gear in the open field. While he is capable of getting loose and making plenty of defenders miss in the open field, he won’t be running away from anyone to create separation in the third level.
Still, his moves in the open field are always effective at getting him max yardage. Their entertainment value is just a bit extra for the crowd.
Before we look at his use in the passing game, one final note on his rushing style that each of the examples above displays in some capacity. Spears sometimes runs upright, but he clearly runs behind his shoulder pads and is always leaning forward at contact, playing with a balanced center of gravity that not only allows him to shed, elude and break tackles, but also fall forward for that extra yard or two.
Now in the passing game, this is where things get kind of frustrating. Spears is so dangerous in the open field. This play against USC that nearly gets him in the endzone is just a glimpse as to why.
The problem is that Spears was not always on the field in obvious passing situations because he wasn’t the best protector on his team. For instance, when Tulane had to rally late against UCF in the regular season, he wasn’t on the field until the Green Wave got in the red zone. This limited his opportunities to be more effective out of the backfield as the opportunities just weren’t there.
The most glaring issue I see with his pass blocking is not recognizing when to help those in his line of sight. He often stands and looks around and, ironically, looks very indecisive as to what he should do.
That said, if he’s squared up with a blitzer, he can hold his own. Cincinnati brings a backer here that Spears steps up and handles properly.
It’s clear that Spears just needs more reps and experience. After all, his mind is one of his biggest strengths in my view, and his effort isn’t to be questioned. Just check out this nasty run block against UCF as his teammate barrels into the end zone.
Tyjae Spears is a truly fascinating prospect in this class. He’ll be far from the first back selected and he won’t be the most dynamic one either, but he could very well have a better career than them all because he understands play design, has patience and a grittiness about him that ignores his size profile entirely.
Successful backs come in all shapes and sizes, so I personally won’t get hung up on his profile too much. However, his entire player profile does make it difficult to project what kind of team needs him as it’s unlikely he’ll be in a position to be a day-one starter. The Steelers certainly don’t need him at his value. I would wager if the Steelers look for a running back to develop, it’ll be one with more home-run speed than their current options, a trait Spears lacks. However, teams that opt for more value at the position in the draft or need one more body in its committee will enjoy the product they signed up for, in my estimation.
Projection: 3rd Round
Depot Draft Grade: 8.0 (Potential Starter/Good Backup) – 3rd Round
Games Watched: UCF ‘22 (Regular Season), Cincinnati ‘22, USC ‘22