The 2023 NFL Draft running back class is loaded. It features one of the better backfield prospects we’ve seen in recent memory in Texas’ Brian Robinson. Behind him includes prospects from the first three rounds in Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet and Texas A&M’s Devon Achane, among others. The least discussed of that group though, and one of the more underrated prospects in this class, is Tulane back Tyjae Spears. Not going to a Power-5 school like everyone listed above certainly hurts the hype around him. But he has more than shown throughout his career that he has the talent to become a starting NFL running back.
What makes Tyjae Spears a future starting back in the NFL?
Spears is a playmaking running back who is capable of taking every carry to the house. He has the necessary elusiveness to do so as he features a strong cut move as well as a sidestep which allows him to dodge multiple defenders in the same run. Spears is not slow out of his cuts, which allows him to pair them together in short succession. He has breakaway speed in his arsenal, and he is able to run away from defenders at every level. He has the necessary quickness to beat players to the edge and then immediately turn it up the field for a chunk play. Spears shows off a good burst when he hits the hole allowing him to beat second and third-level defenders to the spot.
Tyjae Spears is a menace
Also, the move at the 30 is filthy. Spears hops over his own man, then WHILE IN MID AIR EYEBALLS THE DEFENDER & HITS HIM WITH A DEAD LEG SHAKE AS HE HITS THE GROUND. Defender hesitates & Spears scores. Smooth transition
— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) February 21, 2023
Spears has good vision which allows him to see the edge open on inside runs or diagnose a running lane on the inside when the opposite hole is the designed run gap. There are multiple instances in which a run is called for either the A or B gap on one side and Spears ended up taking it to the B or C gap on the opposite side because of his vision. He is quick to diagnose openings and has a natural feel for when holes are going to open up.
Spears is more than willing to follow his blockers and stay patient behind them rather than running with one speed from start to finish and blowing right by them. He is adept at putting his hand on their back when there is a pulling tight end or guard which allows him to run the play with a better tempo and maintain his vision throughout.
He does a good job of getting his feet up and forward on breakaway runs to avoid being tripped up from behind.
Spears’ capabilities with the ball in his hands makes him a threat in the receiving game. When throwing him a quick swing to get him in space, he has the necessary traits to pick up chunks in the passing game.
Spears has good contact balance as a runner, and he routinely is able to bounce off of tackles without losing his center of gravity and is able to get right back up to his top speed. He runs with a bendy upper body which allows him to contort his upper half to avoid contact whilst maintaining his play speed.
What could hold back Tyjae Spears in the NFL?
The only time his vision slipped is when he would force runs to the inside on third or fourth down in short yardage. On multiple examples of those plays, Spears is following his blockers, but there are openings that he could’ve hit elsewhere.
Spears’ lack of power makes it difficult for him to consistently fall forward as a runner when stood up or when multiple players are bringing him down.
From a ball security standpoint, Spears needs to work on a few things. There are instances in which the ball can travel low down the side of his body rather than keeping it up and tight. Spears also rarely ever moved the ball to his outside hand, routinely keeping it on the inside closer to defenders.
Spears is an upright runner as he does not get too much bend in his knees. This makes it easier for defenders to gain leverage on him and chop him down.
As a pass blocker, he struggles to maintain the block throughout the play. He will stand up the defender at the first point of contact. But then the majority of the time they will be able to get free to either side after the first point of contact.
As a route runner, Spears is lacking. He has no refined aspect of his game there and he struggles to run Texas and other similar routes. On screens, Spears needs to run them with a little bit of a better tempo as he does show them a bit too quickly at times. He had the occasional concentration drop but for the most part he was able to make fine hands catches.
What are others saying about Tulane RB Tyjae Spears?
“Spears missed most of the 2020 season with an ACL injury (including a meniscus tear) that required surgery, but he returned to form with more than 2,300 rushing yards over his final two seasons at 6.99 yards per carry. He topped out at 20.1 mph on the GPS at Senior Bowl and ran with great explosion and sudden change of direction in the open field during his final two years at Tulane.
His injury history isn’t irrelevant, and it remains to be seen if Spears can handle a pro workload between the tackles. But in the open field, he will be a weapon at the next level.”
— Nick Baumgardner The Athletic
Tulane RB Tyjae Spears highlights
Relative Athletic Score for Tyjae Spears
Spears is currently projected to go somewhere on Day 2 in the second or third rounds. He is likely to go at some point in the third round but a team falling in love with his athleticism and big play ability certainly cannot be ruled out. Spears projected best for a zone blocking scheme but can run in a man scheme as well.