Dynasty Dilemma – Tyjae Spears
Article by: Mike Lindberg
Someone forgot to tell Tyjae Spears he couldn’t play professional football without an ACL in his right knee. Hines Ward played without an ACL, so why can’t Tyjae Spears? It’s hard to imagine that Spears has no ACL in his knee when you watch his impressive tape. Spears is as elusive as they come, and those explosive plays are a thing of beauty. Spears is a good pass blocker, and can catch the ball well. 1800 carries into his NFL career, Derrick Henry is still a force to opposing defenses, but is slowing down. Do the Titans have big plans for Tyjae Spears? They made an intriguing move by drafting him on day 2, as many expected him to be a day 3 pick. The future of the Titans backfield is open, is there a hidden gem waiting to be uncovered in Tennessee? Let’s dive in.
Reasons to Sell
The biggest concern most fantasy managers have with Tyjae Spears is fears of the durability of his right knee. Spears suffered a season ending ACL injury in his junior year at Tulane. Spears, a rookie, has already torn his ACL twice, Ian Rapoport reported at the NFL combine that Spears had suffered severe thickness cartilage loss, and no ACL in that knee, many are predicting a very short career for this young back. With how increasingly volatile the running back position is getting, it could be a big risk to invest in a player with such a clouded future. Furthermore, Spears is not a very big running back barely hitting the crucial 200-pound threshold, and that concerns me. Spears is being listed in some places closer to 190 pounds, if we consider that and the looming knee concerns, a NFL workhorse running back role looks doubtful.
Not the most ideal situation for Tyjae Spears, coming in and having to play behind Derrick Henry in his first year in the NFL. Henry, as we all know, has dominated the snaps for the Titans since taking over for DeMarco Murray in 2018. When healthy, Henry plays close to 80% of snaps for the Titans. Additionally, Spears has some great pass catching chops, a role he could easily take over, as it has been well documented that Henry is not a pass catcher, however, the Titans aren’t historically a team that targets their running back often, in 2022 the running back room in total only earned a 19% target share. Chances are, even if Spears can earn substantial playing time, this ageing, low scoring offense will have a hard time making him fantasy relevant if they don’t start targeting their running backs more often. Finally, it is unclear the direction this team is taking, they must think they have a shot at this division, paying up to bring in DeAndre Hopkins this offseason. This ageing team is taking one last kick at the can this year, if things don’t bounce their way early on, the Titans could be in a position to completely rebuild. The minimal draft capital spent on Spears leads me to believe he could be easily expendable. Spears would need to impress with his opportunities, otherwise the Titans could easily move on from him, given the draft capital and knee concerns.
Reasons to Buy
There is no doubt that Spears has the talent, he showed this by almost taking over the starting job at Tulane in his sophomore season, but an ACL injury squashed that hope. In 2021, after slowly returning from his multiple ACL surgeries, Spears erupted for 747 yards in his final 6 games. In 2022, Spears’ final year in college at Tulane, he rushed for 1581 and 21 tds. A huge season, but many thought this season wasn’t that impressive because of the weaker, small school competition. Spears showed out against a big school in the Cotton bowl rumbling for 205 yards and 4 touchdowns against the USC Trojans. Spears was named the Cotton Bowl MVP. Spears proved he could play at a high level against good competition. Moreover, Spears is a talented runner averaging an elite 6.9 yards per carry throughout his college career, and after his first 2 NFL games, he is averaging that same 6.9 yards per carry. Lastly, Spears is not only a great rusher, he was also an impressive college receiver, averaging 11.8 yards per reception and finished his senior year with 21 receptions for 237 yards, elite college production for a college running back.
A King’s Farwell
There is no doubt that Derrick Henry is slowing down. With an expiring contract in 2023 there is opportunity for Spears to carve out a roll in 2023 and become the Titans #1 running back heading into 2024. Spears’ usage in the preseason, and the first 2 games of the 2023 season is indicating that they want Spears to be a big part of this offense moving forward. Spears led the NFL this preseason with 4.73 yards after contact and finished 9th in yards per carry, and doing so while facing stacked boxes. The Titans have never had a capable complimentary pass catching back behind Henry before, and Spears is emerging as one. In addition, Spears is also a good pass blocker, after the first 2 games, Spears is already taking on the 3rd down role for Tennessee. Furthermore, after 2 games, Spears is already playing an average of 42% of the snaps for the Titans. Impressive stuff when you consider there hasn’t been a running back to cut into Henry’s workload, let alone a rookie. Finally, if the Titans end up fading away in the playoff race, I can see them trading Derrick Henry before the deadline. Opening up the opportunity for Spears to seize the future of the Titans backfield.
Tyjae Spears is currently ranked on Dynastypros as the dynasty running back 41. I see an opportunity to buy Tyjae Spears before he emerges further in this offense. Spears’ early usage in 2023 is very encouraging and he should build off of this start. The Titans and Spears have shown me enough through 3 games, that I am willing to invest as if Spears is a Top 32 dynasty running back. Furthermore, the playing time Spears is earning this early on is telling me the Titans like him and see him in their future plans. His knee is definitely a concern, especially in dynasty, however, this is already baked into his price. Jump on Spears now while the price is low, with a banged up Derrick Henry, with his inevitable departure after this season, Spears’ stock will only increase as the season progresses. With the future opportunity in clear view, I am willing to take the chance and make the small investment now in order to see a fruitful return when Spears emerges as an important piece of the Titans future.
Mike Lindberg has been playing fantasy football since 2008. He specializes in Dynasty, Keeper and Redraft leagues.
He spends a lot of time reading, listening to podcasts, and mock drafting in order to give you the best fantasy advice possible.
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Let’s go win some championships!