Dynasty Dilemma: Tyjae Spears
Despite the pressing need to improve the WR room for the 2023 NFL season and the lack of a WR selection with either of their first two picks in the draft, the Tennessee Titans elected to take Tulane
RB Tyjae Spears with the 18th pick in the 3rd round. The consensus was that this was a somewhat baffling pick, almost exclusively based on the team’s need for solid pass catchers, especially with a few names still on the board that might have seemed like better picks (Michael Wilson, Tyler Scott, Charlie
Jones). Spears came into the draft as a polarizing prospect. He drew plenty of praise for his Senior Week performance as well as his electric college highlights, but also came with some valid concerns. Chief among those concerns is his extensive history of knee injuries. Regardless of the outside noise, for fantasy managers the question remains – is Tyjae Spears a buy or a sell? In this article, I’ll give you my thoughts to help answer this question.
REASON TO BUY
There are a couple factors that play into this, but the most important is a change in offensive philosophy for the Titans coming into the 2023 season. During the last two seasons under the play-calling of former OC Todd Downing, the Tennessee offense became stale and predictable. For 2023, Former Houston Texans OC Tim Kelly will be calling the shots. Kelly’s last two years in Houston indicate that the Titans will be throwing the ball much more this year, with both of his final seasons in Houston finishing with almost 100 more passing attempts than the 2022
Titans offense. Why does this matter for a running back? Because Kelly’s offenses tend to target RBs at a higher rate than Downing’s did. While Henry had his most successful statistical receiving season in 2022, a large portion of his targets can be attributed to Tennessee’s dire lack of receiving help (AJ Brown traded to Philadelphia & Treylon Burks missing significant time). Henry should revert to his meager target share in 2023, leaving plenty of those RB targets on the table for Spears to take advantage of. After struggling to find a reliable pass catching back for a few seasons, Spears has a big opportunity to step into this role and have success.
All the opportunity in the world is meaningless if you can’t take advantage of it, and Spears’ skill set puts him in prime position to do just that. Draft day scouting reports note that he is an “outstanding receiver who adjusts to the errant throw and gets down to scoop up low passes” and that “he’s a willing pass blocker who can square up to defenders”. These skills make it a no brainer to get him on the field in 3rd down passing situations. Spears is also an explosive athlete and great route runner, evidenced by a Senior Week clip where he uses these traits to shake a defender in an almost embarrassing way before making the reception. He has all the makings of an absolute weapon with the ball in space and, given the draft selection ahead of viable WRs, it seems that is how the Titans want to use him.
REASON TO SELL
Dynasty leagues always have been, and always will be, a long game. Therefore, it is never a great idea to be in the market for a
player with an extensive injury history that could impact their future playing ability. Spears suffered a brutal knee injury in 2020 where he tore his right ACL and damaged his meniscus. This was
the same ACL that he previously tore in 2015 while playing high school football. His combine medical report noted cartilage loss, arthritis, and no remaining ACL in that knee, which lead to speculation that Spears might not be able to be effective past his first contract in the NFL. Spears has since stated that he is healthy, and the Titans brass seems to agree. Still though, this seems to be a concern for his long-term success in the league. Unless your team is primed to contend for a championship in the next couple of years, it might be worth testing the market to see what you can get for him at the first signs of buzz during the season.
With Derrick Henry back for another run with the Titans, no one should expect Tyjae Spears to be handling the massive workload of a 3 down back in 2023. Well, if he’s expected to have a relatively short career in the NFL, can we count on him taking over that role when Henry leaves the team possibly as soon as next year? Sadly no, that shouldn’t be expected either. Spears has a smaller frame than your prototypical workhorse RB. At 5’10” and 201lbs, taking on a workload similar to the top backs like Jonathan Taylor (226lbs) or Saquon Barkley (232lbs) and staying healthy doesn’t seem like it is in the cards for Spears. His size is also cause for some of his scouting negatives, namely his lack of elite contact balance and his inability to run through direct contact up the middle. Anyone who drafted Spears as Derrick Henry’s heir apparent may be strongly disappointed in that expectation.
With Spears being taken in the backend of the 2nd round of most rookie drafts, your team is likely in good shape for the upcoming year. This is a bit of a tough spot, as a Henry injury could immediately turn Spears into a must start RB for your contending team. Henry, 29, is just 1 full season removed from a year-ending foot injury and continues to get a significant number of touches, so holding for that reason makes sense if you are able to do so. However, if you’re looking to shop him, I think it makes sense to look for a young WR with similar upside in players like Skyy Moore, Marvin Mims, Rashod Bateman, or even a TE like Chig Okonkwo who had a solid rookie season and should also benefit from Tennessee going more pass heavy this season. If you are sold on Spears taking on a big pass catching role + the possibility of a Henry injury, then no one can blame you for staying put. But if the negatives are concerning to you, I think the development of one of those young pass catchers is a better bet to take.
While Spears has a chance to shatter expectations in his first two seasons, overall, I think the long-term risk is too great. There are few things that are more frustrating to fantasy managers than their high-end talent not being able to stay on the field and in their lineups. WRs like the ones I mentioned above should all have much better long-term value and will be much less of a headache to roster. Again, unless you are going for gold in either of the next two seasons, I simply don’t see a reason to pass on the right offer for Tyjae Spears.
As a long time NFL and NCAAF fan, dynasty fantasy football just seemed like the fantasy format for me. Every conversation about fantasy football from start/sit decisions to trade debates to the upcoming rookie class got me more and more hooked, and eventually writing about dynasty has become a passion of mine. When I’m not writing articles to help your fantasy team or deep in trade negotiations of my own, you can find me with the headphones on working on audiobooks, hanging with my family and my dog, or at the felt deep in a game of poker.