Joining the Titans is not great for Spears' Fantasy value in Year 1 with Derrick Henry leading the way, but he could immediately carve out a passing-game role as a rookie. We saw last season that when Ryan Tannehill was healthy, the Titans used Dontrell Hilliard as a weapon in the pass game. Hilliard caught two TDs in Week 1 against the Giants and he did it on more than just your typical screen or flare routes. Spears, who racked up 1,586 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns at Tulane last year and 1,052 of those yards came after first contact, can provide an upgrade to Hilliard in that exact role and could be a sneaky late-round dart throw if you play in half or full-point PPR leagues. In rookie-only formats, Spears is worth a pick once the draft moves to Round 2.
If you’re playing redraft, then ignore the negative health reports on Spears’ knee. He clearly played through whatever issues might be there in 2022. If you want to downgrade (or avoid) him in dynasty for that factor, that’s fine.
For 2023, Spears looks like a high-value handcuff. He’s unlikely to touch the ball much as long as workhorse Derrick Henry is healthy. But if Henry goes down or gets traded, Spears looks like the best bet to lead a run-heavy offense.
What We Learned Last YearSpears built off an impressive junior year in 2021 to deliver a workhorse final season at Tulane.He racked up 1,581 yards on the ground at 6.9 per carry, adding 22 catches for 256 yards (11.6 per catch) and 21 total TDs.Spears averaged 6.8 yards per rush and 11.8 yards per catch for his college career.He followed that up with a 4.54-second 40 time at his pro day, not a terrific number for his size (5’10, 201 pounds).He did land with the Titans in the middle of Round 3, as the fifth RB off the board. Spears followed:Round 1: Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr GibbsRound 2: Zach CharbonnetRound 3: Kendre MillerHe preceded Devon Achane and Tank Bigsby in Round 3.After the draft came details about the right knee in which Spears has already sustained two ACL tears. He’s apparently working with “a full thickness cartilage loss,” no ACL, and arthritis. It’s tough to imagine the Titans didn’t know all these details before they drafted him.
What to Expect in 2023Given that Spears hasn’t had any knee transplants since last season, there seems no reason to factor the knee stuff into his short-term outlook.The big thing blocking him for 2023, instead, is Derrick Henry shaped.The veteran has led the NFL in carries three of the past four years. The only time he didn’t was when he broke a foot midway through a 2021 campaign that had him averaging a career-high 27.4 carries per game.Henry has also increased his receiving over the past two years. That included tying for third among all Titans in receptions last season.Behind Henry sits nothing that should challenge Spears’ pursuit of the No. 2 role. Hassan Haskins arrived in Round 6 last year and totaled just 36 touches, trailing Dontrell Hilliard in use behind Henry. Hilliard is no longer on the roster.
Spears was selected in the third round of April's draft. In terms of collegiate elusiveness and post-contact production, the Tulane product has the best statistical profile in this year's rookie RB class. His career 4.10 YAC and 3.2 forced missed tackle rate both rank second, with the latter trailing only Bijan Robinson. Spears is on the small side, but he was clearly very efficient as Tulane's lead rusher, which included 1,837 yards and 21 TDs on 251 touches in 2022 alone. He caught only 48 balls in 33 games, but his efficiency (8.5 YPT, 11.6 RAC) was excellent. Spears has some medical concerns (two ACL surgeries), but if he holds up he could eventually help replace 29-year-old Derrick Henry. In the meantime, he's no more than Henry's backup and a deep-league insurance hold.