Editor’s note: The Tennessee Titans selected RB Tyjae Spears with No. 81 pick in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft on April 28.
NEW ORLEANS (BVM) – The week of the Senior Bowl allows for NFL coaches and front offices to not only get to know the draft’s upcoming prospects, but also see how they operate first hand. Coming out of the week in Mobile, scouts and pundits across the league couldn’t help but take notice of Tulane running back Tyjae Spears.
We've been trying to tell y'all….
— The American (@American_Conf) February 3, 2023
Extra attention has come all year for Spears and his Green Wave teammates following what would be a surprising jump from 2-10 in 2021, to a 12-2 campaign this past season that included a Cotton Bowl win over USC.
As the engine behind Tulane’s top–ranked rushing attack, Spears racked up 1,581 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns. The standout season led to an invite to the Senior Bowl, where Spears would be given the chance to showcase his full capabilities in front of the league. With questions surrounding how he would perform when it came to all aspects of the running back position, the 21-year-old would deliver on all fronts.
“My goal heading into the Senior Bowl was to be the best running back there,” Spears said. “It was a matter of proving myself and showing them that I could pass block and catch out of the backfield. Show them that I could do the whole nine and that I’m a very valuable running back.”
Spears did just that during his week in Mobile, picking up the Senior Bowl’s practice player of the week. During his four years at Tulane, the 5-foot-10 back totaled nearly 3,000 career rushing yards and 31 touchdowns in 33 games. With a steady ramp up to his final campaign, Spears took control of the program’s breakout 2022 season, finding himself in the top five of the nation’s rushing leaders. With a Cotton Bowl matchup against USC to end the year, Spears would put the cherry on top of a historic career with 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Tyjae Spears (@tyjae22) shows off his new Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP hardware.
Season-high 205 rushing yards and 4 TD to lead Tulane to a historic victory. pic.twitter.com/2rE7I7I9kW
— Steve Helwick (@s_helwick) January 2, 2023
While his big game came against one of the top teams in the country, some have critiqued his competition in the American Athletic Conference. With that in mind heading down to Mobile, It wouldn’t take long for the Green Wave product to silence some of the naysayers as he stood out against some of college football’s top players.
“Just building up to the Senior Bowl, it was kind of weird at first,” Spears said. “You question yourself, like are you really capable of being here? Because you got college prospects from all over but I just locked in and told myself, ‘I’m supposed to be here.’
“There was a lot of guys complaining like, ‘I’m ready to go home.’ I took that like they’re coasting through stuff… these dudes are trying to get through it, I’m trying to make the most of it. That showed me my mindset was different than a lot of these guys. Just because they got that big title school doesn’t mean anything. Being there showed me I’m in the right place.”
That mindset has already begun to benefit Spears as the Tulane star believes the experience has provided him some important lessons that he can take heading forward. With so much uncertainty surrounding the future of players in the draft, Spears is making sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself with an important couple of months on the docket.
“I learned how to be appreciative of where you’re at,” Spears said of his Senior Bowl week. “Don’t count the days, make the days count. We always try to look ahead and look forward to what we have going on but I just learned to live in the moment and make the most out of everything I do.”
— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 2, 2023
Spears’ journey to draft goes back to his time at Ponchatoula High School where the Louisiana native enjoyed a breakout campaign his senior season following some early adversity. An injury during his junior year sidelined him for much of his third season, leading to eventual questions surrounding his size during recruiting. With a handful of Division I offers, Spears chose the home state school over Kansas State.
With more experienced players on the roster his freshman season, the Tulane running back had to wait his turn to get atop the depth chart. An ACL tear in the 2020 shortened COVID-19 season, would delay the opportunity even further before enjoying the bulk of the work in 2021. The culmination would lead to Spears’ dominant past year.
“You’re going to face a lot of adversity in life but the adversity you face doesn’t define you,” Spears said of his road to this point. “What defines you is how you respond to it. I don’t feel sorry about where I came from and going through what I went through and no one else should either because I’m going to work to change my situation. 100 times out of 100 times, I’m going to work to change my situation.”
With draft events nearing, Spears is ready to show teams around the league that he can add to any environment. While he knows it’s going to take time to establish a voice in any locker room, he thinks his work ethic can help push all 32 teams.
“I’m trying to win the Super Bowl wherever I go,” Spears said. “Don’t matter if I’m a two, a one, or a three. I’m going to push everybody in my room to win a Super Bowl.”
Spears next event comes during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where the Tulane running back is working to improve on his 40-yard-dash. His time at the Senior Bowl has given him the needed confidence heading forward as he looks to continue to turn heads during the process.
“Heading into the combine, I’m not even stressing about things anymore because it is what it is,” Spears said. “I’m not saying that as [like I’m comfortable] but I’m not stressing over anything because I know I can compete against anybody and I know I will rise above everything. So I’m really just taking it one day at a time.”