The Tennessee Titans selected Tulane running back Tajae Spears with the 81st pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Here's what you need to know about how his Fantasy stock in both season-long and Dynasty formats is affected by his landing spot.
Spears' Fantasy fit with Titans
Joining the Titans is not great for Spears' Fantasy value in Year 1 assuming the Titans don't trade or release Derrick Henry, but he could immediately carve out a passing game role as a rookie. We saw last season that when Ryan Tannehill was healthy, the Titans used RB Dontrell Hilliard as a weapon in the pass game. Hilliard caught two TDs in Week 1 against the Giants and he did it on more than just your typical screen or flare routes. Spears can provide an upgrade to Hilliard in that exact role and could be a sneaky late-round dart throw if you play in half or full-point PPR leagues.
Spears' Dynasty value is a bit all over the place at the moment. In our pre-draft, I selected Spears at the top of Round 2. That is in large part due to my evaluation on Spears, but that was before he landed on the Titans. Ultimately, this is an excellent landing spot long term for his Dynasty value with Derrick Henry unlikely to play out more than just this next season with the Titans.
On NFL Network, Ian Rapoport mentioned that Spears slid in the draft because of a medical check that revealed he is playing without an ACL. This was similar to the report teams got on Jay Ajayi who ultimately played several seasons at the NFL level. This nugget is likely to drop Spears' Dynasty stock into the late second round.
Tyjae Spears: What to know
Spears has drawn the dreaded change of pace running back label from some, and at 5-9 and 201 pounds, I can understand that, but I can't agree with it. Watching Spears' tape it's impossible to come away with the idea that he can only be used as a spell back. Instead, I am reminded of a player he profiles very similarly too from a frame standpoint and in some ways from a stylistic play standpoint -- Packers running back Aaron Jones. Prior to Green Bay drafting A.J. Dillon, Jones earned a bigger workload than expected when he was drafted on Day 3 and he more than proved he could handle it while remaining just as impactful as both a runner and receiver.
Spears surprised some when he operated as a true workhorse back in 2022 and the clear focal point of Tulane's turnaround (and for their program a breakout) 2022 season. He racked up 1,586 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. A ridiculous amount of Spears' rushing yards came after contact -- 1,052 to be exact, per PFF. Spears' ability to create yards after contact is his trump card trait when projecting his game to the NFL level. Watching Spears on film you'll routinely see defenders fall off Spears' legs on tackle attempts because he almost always wins the leverage battle and both his contact balance and lower-body strength make him hard to tackle. Spears also runs violently like every carry is his last -- this is another reason why he is such a dominant yards after contact runner.
However, Spears' defining trait is not the only trump card he has. His acceleration combined with his straight-line speed makes him a home run hitter as well. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry with 31 touchdowns at the collegiate level. In addition to the acceleration, Spears brings elusiveness to the open field via his change of direction skills. These traits also project to Spears earning a role as a receiver at the next level and becoming a useful starter on PPR rosters.
- RB profiles: | |
Age as of Week 1: 21 | Height: 5-foot-9 | Weight: 201 | 40-time: 4.47 *At Pro Day
Comparable body-type to: Aaron Jones
We're breaking down everything you need to know about Spears from a Fantasy manager perspective, including best fits, Dynasty outlook, measurables, scouting report, key stats and an NFL comparison.
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- Spears saved some of his best work for the jump in competition (Tulane's bowl game against Power 5 team USC). Despite playing behind an offensive line that was outmatched from both a pure size and skill standpoint vs. the USC defensive front, Spears racked up 205 total yards and four rushing touchdowns -- almost single-handedly willing Tulane to a 46-45 win.
- Tulane mixed in both zone blocking and power/gap blocking concepts almost evenly so Spears has experience that can translate to any NFL blocking scheme. Having said that, his patience and burst make him a perfect fit for a zone blocking scheme at the next level.
- Patience is excellent with Spears -- he'll set up his runs because he has full confidence in his acceleration and ability to get through any crease.
- Spears runs with a violent nature -- he's determined on every run to hit his landmark, crease a run for a big gain or create the most he can after contact. He wants to get vertical and attack the defense.
- Spears' lower-body flexibility -- specifically his ankle flexion -- allows him to make exceptional cuts in the open field, changing direction and then coupling that with his short-area burst. This makes him dynamic in the open field.
- Incredibly productive at the collegiate level -- averaged 7.0 yards per carry on 1,359 rushing yards in 2022.
- Explosive athlete -- as evidenced by his elite postings in the vertical and broad jumps at the combine and you see it on tape when he's in space or trying to get through a crease. Spears posted 91st and 87th percentile vertical and broad jumps.
- Spears looks natural as a receiver out of the backfield and his 92nd percentile hand size bodes well for him to be a sure-handed receiving back at the next level.
- Ball security is better than expected for a smaller back with just three fumbles in his collegiate career and that includes the 2022 season where he operated in a workhorse role.
- Didn't run much of the route tree on tape, but at the Senior Bowl, Spears was dominant in the one-on-one drills at creating separation, which presents a high-upside receiving profile if he joins the right system in the NFL.
- While competitive in pass protection at Tulane, the jump to the NFL level is somewhat concerning. Can he pass protect at the NFL level? If not, he'll never be a three-down back.
- Size is an issue for Spears at just 5-9 and 200 pounds -- can he hold up with a similar workload to the one he had at Tulane?
- Big jump in the competition going from Tulane to the NFL.
- While Spears is excellent at shaking off leg tackles and creating after contact, he is not the fall-forward runner who will get low and push a pile forward.
- Spears doesn't have a clean injury profile. He suffered a torn ACL in 2020.
Advanced stats to know
- Racked up a 90+ overall rushing grade from PFF in 2022.
- 63 forced missed tackles in 2022.
- 4.55 yards after contact per attempt average. Some backs don't even average that YPC overall.
Spears reminds me a lot of Aaron Jones both in his frame/build and in his style. He's patient but violent in how he runs the football. He may not have the same kind of receiving profile as Jones based on his college film, but all you have to do is throw on a bit of his Senior Bowl practice tape to see him torching linebackers in one-on-ones in the pass game. The right coach can unlock his receiving profile and then he can become a Fantasy stalwart as Jones has.