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Tulane RB Tyjae Spears selected 81st overall by Tennessee Titans in 2023 NFL Draft

The reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year and Cotton Bowl MVP is the fifth running back selected in the 2023 draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tyjae Spears served as the centerpiece of a dream season for Tulane football. The AAC Offensive Player of the Year led the Green Wave to a storybook conference championship run and stunning Cotton Bowl victory over USC.

Spears heated up late in the 2022 season more than any other collegiate running back. And thanks to a dominant close to his Tulane tenure, he became one of the most sought-after running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Spears was selected with the 81st pick of the third round in the 2023 draft by the Tennessee Titans. He was the fifth running back selected and became the highest Tulane alum drafted since fellow running back Matt Forté — the 44th overall pick in 2008.

The AAC Offensive Player of the Year finished his collegiate career with eight consecutive games featuring at least 125 rushing yards. When summing his numbers across that timespan, he totaled 1,269 yards — an average of 158.6 per contest. Spears posted a season-high 181 yards in a pivotal game against Cincinnati which sent Tulane to its first-ever AAC Championship Game. Then, upon arriving in the conference title game, Spears one-upped that showing with 199 yards to defeat UCF for the AAC crown. That performance clinched a Cotton Bowl appearance for Tulane, and Spears capitalized under the brightest lights with 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns against USC in an MVP-caliber performance.

Spears declared for the draft after that unfathomable stretch, and he subsequently earned invites to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. The 5’10”, 201 pound running back posted impressive explosion numbers with a 39-inch vertical jump and 10’05” broad jump at the Combine in Indianapolis. He didn’t partake in the 40-yard dash, but clocked in at an unofficial time of 4.47 seconds at Tulane’s pro day.

The calling cards of the Ponchatoula, LA native’s game involve his incredible ability to break tackles and escape contact — elements which were on full display during those final three games, especially in the Cotton Bowl win over USC. Spears consistently broke away for 30+ yard runs (five combined in his final two games), showing his explosiveness upon reaching an open field. He finished his final campaign with 1,581 rushing yards which situated him at fifth in the FBS. Spears averaged 6.9 yards per carry in Tulane’s spectacular season and ranked third in the country in rushing touchdowns with 19. He was utilized as a recurring receiving threat as well, accumulating 22 receptions and 256 yards last fall.

Spears joins a Tennessee Titans squad which has been spearheaded by two-time All-Pro selection Derrick Henry since 2016. Henry’s name has floated around trade rumors for the majority of the offseason, and it is possible the Titans might move in a different direction at the position. Outside of Henry, the Titans boast a rather inexperienced running back corps consisting of 2022 fourth round pick Hassan Haskins, as well as other young options including Julius Chestnut and Jonathan Ward.