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Buccaneers NFL Draft Target: Running back Tyjae Spears, Tulane

Does Tulane running back Tyjae Spears fit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Tulane at Memphis Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buccaneers don’t necessarily have a glaring hole at the running back position, but the backfield isn’t jam-packed either. Currently, the Buccaneers sit with last year’s rookie standout Rachaad White, life-long third stringer Ke’shawn Vaughn, and newcomer Chase Edmonds. While this is not a running back room that fans will be scouring through for Pro Bowl votes it does boast some promise, however adding a new talented young prospect is never a bad idea.

Who is Tyjae Spears?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Tulane at Southern California Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Tyjae Spears is a 5’10” 200-pound back out of Tulane. Spears is coming off a season where he rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 1,837 yards from scrimmage last year were by far the most in any one season during his college career. Starting in 2019, Spears’ production trended upward with each season that passed, as more and more touches for Spears led to greater and greater rewards for Tulane. 2021 showed he was on the precipice of a breakout campaign as he was given over 100 carries for the first time in his college career and netted 863 yards, while tallying nine rushing touchdowns. As if 2021’s 6.7 yards per rush wasn’t impressive enough, Spears topped that number in 2022. With a larger sample size, Spears averaged 6.9 yards per carry while being handed the ball 229 times. In his time at Tulane, Spears displayed reliable production, a consistent yards per carry average that never dipped below six and showcased explosive runs in all four of his collegiate seasons.

How would Spears fit in Tampa?

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Jeff Lange/USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Buccaneers are, of course, going to be without Leonard Fournette for the first time since 2019. His replacement may already be in pewter, but the Buccaneers could potentially look to bolster their depth at the position following the loss of ‘Playoff Lenny.’

Rachaad White is expected by most to step in as the team’s immediate void-filler at RB1, behind him Tampa Bay’s running back depth chart seems fairly up in the air. Ke’shawn Vaughn has been a perennial backup. Drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2020, Vaughn has only totaled 342 yards rushing in his entire professional career and has never appeared in a full season’s worth of games for the Buccaneers. Chase Edmonds is the new kid on the block in Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old back out of Fordham has already been on three separate teams in his career, two of them last year. Edmonds’ NFL story started in the NFC West, when the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in 2018. From 2018-2021 Edmonds carried the ball for the cardinals 333 times earning himself a healthy 1,551 yards rushing, over 4.6 yards per carry. 2022 saw Edmonds’ production dip jarringly as he started his season with the Miami Dolphins before becoming bait for the Dolphins to pursue Bradley Chubb at the trade deadline. After finishing with the Denver Broncos in a forgettable year, accounting for under 300 yards from scrimmage, Edmonds found himself in free agency with the Bucs biting on the line. What, if anything, Edmonds still has left is unknown. Throughout his career he has shown himself to be a very versatile back who can bring as much to the pass game as he can to the traditional running game. Tampa’s plans for the journeyman remain uncertain.

For what it’s worth, the Buccaneers have also been linked, in reports, to former Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot. The truth to these rumors is unconfirmed but the legitimacy of them is possible with Elliot’s former position coach now currently on Tampa Bay’s payroll.

Tyjae Spears, as a prospect:

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Tyjae Spears was a standout in Mobile, during Senior Bowl Week.

The Green Wave would have been proud of their star as he starred amongst his peers. The running backs were challenged in pass protection throughout the week by linebackers in one on ones, but blocking was no challenge for Spears. He stepped up without any hesitation and greeted linebackers with thudding collisions, consistently earning verbal praise for his work as blocker from coaches on the field. When I got the opportunity to speak with Spears, I lauded his work in pass protection. In the linked article from the tweet above, I detailed how the back out of Tulane provided as satisfying and mature of an answer as any future coach or GM could possibly want to hear regarding his blocking. He explained the motivation behind his effort in pass protection, stating that the reason he had such a desire to block was that he, “Had to turn it up because [he] was seeing [his] quarterback on the ground [and] most of the time it was [his] fault.” Expanding on this quote he added, “I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for him too.” This is as beautifully scripted a response as any evaluator could ask for from a prospect, selfless, team-first, and self-aware. Pass protection may never be a skillset that running backs vault up and down draft boards because of but it is a significant part of being a good all-around running back at the NFL level. Spears will take pride in checking that box for whatever team calls his name in the 2023 NFL Draft.

At the combine, Tyjae Spears opted out of the 40, however the Tulane product did flash his explosiveness at the school’s pro day. Unofficially clocking in at 4.47, Spears showed the speed he had displayed on tape was not a mirage.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the teams present at Tulane’s pro day though Spears did not acknowledge them as a team which had individually shown interest in him— listing the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, and three AFC South franchises in the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars as teams he had personally met with.

While Tyjae Spears showed out at the Senior Bowl, impressed at Tulane’s pro day, and has produced some intensely impressive collegiate numbers he is not a prospect without flaws. His size is not that of an every-down thumper, workhorse-style running back, meaning he will likely need to find his niche in a rotational role for an NFL franchise.

Spears will also need to deal with the fact that coming out of college there is a slight injury concern attached to him, as he does have an injury history. Spears has an ACL on his resumé. Fans and NFL teams alike know the lifespan of a modern-day National Football League running back is not long, even when that back has been injury free. It is a position where you are exposed to constant collisions and the body, no matter how strong, is only able to absorb so much before it taps out. Spears will be coming into the NFL having already withstood the pounding of 523 touches, from his time at Tulane. In the NFL he will be hit by bigger, stronger defenders that are moving faster and athletes do not typically get healthier as they age.

There is still a bit of time before the 2023 NFL draft process concludes and teams have to start putting names on cards. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers certainly have more pressing needs that require attention than the running back position still, Tyjae Spears represents an intriguing piece that the team could take a look at. What do you think about the idea of the Bucs taking a shot on Spears?


Is Tyjae Spears a good fit for Tampa Bay’s backfield?

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    Yes, Draft him!
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    I think Spears can be a solid player for us.
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    No, please don’t draft him!
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    I miss Lenny.
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