Tulane running back Tyjae Spears could have returned for a fifth season, but he made the right decision to opt for the NFL draft. And he left on the highest of notes. Spears rushed for 205 yards (12.1 avg.) and four touchdowns in Tulane’s 46-45 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl. He was named the Cotton Bowl’s Most Outstanding Offensive performer.
Alright, we know that everybody ran the ball well on USC, but it was still a memorable performance. (USC was 80th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 159.8 yards per game and a healthy 4.9 yards per carry).
Still, Spears was impressive in that game and most others during this past season, where he competed as a fourth-year junior, and helped Tulane go from 2-12 to 12-2 and champions of the American Athletic Conference.
What Team Drafted Tyjae Spears?
Spears was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round with the 81st overall pick.
Tyjae Spears Draft Profile
The one play that demonstrates Spears’ all-around skill came during this memorable 60-yard touchdown run in Tulane’s 45-28 win over UCF in the AAC championship game.
He showed his great speed, vision, cutback ability, balance, and toughness all in one memorable run. Spears wouldn’t be denied, even hurdling over a teammate to keep moving toward the end zone. In the title game, Spears rushed for 199 yards (9.0 avg.) and the one memorable score.
Listed at 5-11 and 195 pounds, he can run between the tackles and of course, dart to the outside.
He has great cutback ability and is truly elusive. Spears runs low to the ground and as seen on that touchdown run, has tremendous balance.
Spears increased his rushing total in each of his four seasons. In 2022, he was fifth among FBS running backs in rushing, totaling 1,581 yards on 229 carries (6.9 avg.) and 19 touchdowns. He has improved as a receiver and can even get better with more chances. This season he caught 22 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
Are there red flags?
Of course, there are with just about any running back.
During the third game of the 2020 season against Southern Mississippi, he suffered a torn ACL, but he would return to play all 26 games over his final two seasons.
In 2021, he rushed for 863 yards (6.7 avg.) and nine touchdowns before having his breakout 2022 season.
This past season, Spears got better as the season went on. He rushed for at least 121 yards in each of the last eight games.
Maybe the most impressive statistic is that Spears averaged 6.8 yards per carry during his career, in which he rushed for 2,910 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Spears will be competing in the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4, so that week of practice and the game itself could help raise his stock. No doubt during the practices there will be interest in his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield but also in how he fares in pass protection.
The Athletic’s draft expert Dane Brugler rates Spears as the No. 9 running back in the draft.
How would that compare to last year’s draft?
The ninth running back selected in the 2022 draft was Isaiah Spiller from Texas A&M. Spiller was the 18th player selected in the fourth round, the No. 123rd overall choice.
Of course, Spears could definitely help his stock in the postseason.
One other area where he might be able to help teams is in the return game. He only returned two kickoffs during his career at Tulane, both in 2021 and for a total of 36 yards.
Where Spears might be even more effective is as a punt returner. His greatest trait is the ability to make people miss in the open field and it says here he could be an effective return man, depending on how much he will be asked to carry the ball.
Spears could definitely be a good playmaker on a playoff-caliber team. In the NFL, teams need multiple running backs due to the physical toll of the position. Based on his late-season surge, Spears should hear his name called well before the end of the fourth round.