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2023 NFL Draft prospect profile - Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane

Could Spears take defenses by surprise in 2023?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants need to add weapons to their offense in 2023. Not only do they need to add receiving weapons, but they might also have to fill out their running back depth chart. Put simply, they need to get more explosive in general.

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears is coming off of a breakout 2022 season that saw him average nearly 7 yards per carry and score 21 touchdowns. He’s riding that momentum to establish himself as one of the most explosive offensive players in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Could Spears catch the Giants’ eye as they look to add playmakers?

Prospect: Tyjae Spears (22)
Games Watched: vs. Houston (2022), vs. Cincinnati (2022), vs. Central Florida (2022), vs. USC (2022)
Red Flags: ACL (2020)

Measurables

Courtesy Kent Lee Platte (@mathbomb) | RAS.football

Career Stats

Games Played: 33
Carries: 427
Yards (YPC): 2,910 (6.8 per carry)
Receptions: 48
Yards (YPC): 564 (11.8 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 34 (31 rushing, 3 receiving)

2022 Stats

Games Played: 14
Carries: 229
Yards (YPC): 1,581 (6.9 per carry)
Receptions: 22
Yards (YPC): 256 (11.6 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 21 (19 rushing, 2 receiving)

Quick Summary

Best: Speed, agility, quickness, explosiveness, vision, versatility, competitive toughness
Worst: Size, ball security, pass protection
Projection: A primary running back in an active rotation, with starting upside in the right situation.

Game Tape

Full Report

Tyjae Spears is an undersized but explosively athletic running back prospect from Tulane University.

Spears is a quick, twitchy, agile, athletic, explosive, and fast runner who often appears as though he is playing at a different speed than everyone else on the field. He is a versatile player with experience in multiple alignments, regularly playing out of the shotgun, I formation, as a Wildcat quarterback, and even split out as a true wide receiver.

Spears is a patient runner who understands the advantage offered by his athletic traits. He is usually “slow to the hole”, giving his offensive linemen time to establish their blocks while also taking paths behind the line of scrimmage to help set up those blocks. He puts his explosiveness to work once he reaches the hole, accelerating hard to take advantage of quickly closing gaps or turning tackle attempts into incidental contact. He has an uncanny ability to “get skinny” and explode through running lanes that almost don’t even appear to be there.

His athleticism and vision make him a natural fit for zone blocking schemes, while his explosion and competitive toughness allow him to run effectively between the tackles as well. He was frequently used as a Wildcat quarterback and appeared fearless running between the tackles.

Spears has great vision and does a good job of picking out running lanes and anticipating defenders at the second and third levels. He also has great stride frequency which allows him to alter his speed or make cuts on a moment’s notice, which makes him very difficult for defenders to bring down in space. Once in space, he has an extra gear to run away from most defenders and is always a threat to turn a nice gain into a chunk play or touchdown.

He is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, on screen plays, or out wide as a true wide receiver. Spears has big (10-inch) hands, makes good adjustments to the ball in the air, and is a natural “hands” catcher who frames the ball and plucks it out of the air.

While Spears is a capable receiver, he has room to improve as a pass protector. He’s a willing blocker for his teammates – both in pass protection and as a lead blocker on sweeps or quarterback runs – but he lacks great technique. Because of his size, Spears will need to put in considerable work and become a much more consistent technician to be a reliable blocker at the NFL level. He will also need to improve his ball security at the NFL level. Spears has a tendency to only keep one hand on the ball in traffic, instead preferring to use his off hand to deal with defenders. And while that can help him pick through traffic, he is more vulnerable to being stripped.

Spears can also have issues with balance. He is usually able to survive incidental contact if he knows it’s coming. However, his lack of mass can make him relatively easy to knock over by bigger defenders. Likewise, there are instances where he tries to run through stumbles and instead finds himself on the ground.

Finally, teams will want to do their due diligence on his medical reports. Spears suffered a torn ACL in 2020, and while it doesn’t appear to affect him today, teams will want to be sure about his long-term prognosis.

Overall Grade: 7.2

Projection

Tyjae Spears projects as a high-volume RB2 early in his career with the potential to be a starter in the right system.

Spears isn’t a classic “bell cow” running back, but he is tougher and stronger than his size and frame would suggest. Most offenses will likely view him as an explosive counterpart to a short-yardage power back. However, his highest ceiling would likely be on a more “wide open” offense that’s willing to use him as more of an offensive weapon.

Spears has a diverse and versatile skill set that should make him a home-run threat early in his career. Spears has the ability to solve athletic problems in real time and is a very creative runner in the open field. Teams that are able to get him space in which to operate will definitely be rewarded.

His ability as a receiver make him a natural fit as a third down back, but teams will likely want to see him improve as a pass protector before he gets regular play in longer downs and distances. That said, he could be put to good use in “scat protection” (that is, as a quick check-down option for quarterbacks) on downs where the playbook is opened wider.

He will also need to be more careful with ball security when approaching contact. He has good vision as well as plenty of agility and quickness such that he can run with two hands on the ball while still being explosive. Spears only needs development in a couple key areas and he would present an easy “second round” value and would be a dynamic weapon that an offense could deploy on any down and distance.