High-end NFL Player Comp(s):
Tony Pollard Low-end NFL Player Comp(s):
Best Scheme Fit: Universal.
Likely slightly better in a zone-running scheme. May be better
suited for a complementary backfield role (like Pollard) that
limits his running in between the tackles and allows him to work
outside more often.
Best Team Fit(s): Bengals, Dolphins, Falcons,
Buccaneers, Cardinals, Texans, Titans
Non-bolded times - Good examples of attribute Bolded times - Average/poor examples of attribute
* - How well does his skill set carry over
to the fantasy game? For running backs, a player needs to be a
three-down option as well as a realistic threat for 1,000 rushing
yards and 500 receiving yards to be a candidate for a perfect
grade. Positional scarcity at the pro level is also a part of
Spears is the kind of back that defenders need to get on the ground
at the first level of the defense because he only needs one or two
steps to break off a chunk run. His acceleration is borderline elite
and accentuated by his ability to pace his runs in such a way that
defenders are caught off-guard when he turns on the juice. Making
things even more difficult on the defense is his ability to combine
patience before reaching and through the hole with the ability to
make sharp cuts and change direction at the second and third levels.
For a smaller back who possesses so much explosiveness, Spears does
a more than adequate job of playing through contact - his 1,052
rushing yards after contact in 2022 is a reflection of his contact
balance AND ability to make the defense pay for not getting him
down when it had the chance. Spears has slightly above-average power,
but he makes up for it somewhat by being a highly competitive runner
and usually falls forward. Tulane did not opt to make the American
Athletic Conference's leading rusher a big part of the passing attack
(more than two catches in a game only six times in 33 career games),
but Spears is not to blame for that. He handled screen and swing
passes without incident and even caught a game-winning TD against
Houston lined out wide.
The most pressing concern for Spears is his injury history. Due
in large part to the violent cuts that make him so elusive in the
open field, he has already suffered a torn ACL twice in the last
four years. Moving past his medical history, Spears will occasionally
fall in love with bouncing runs, likely because he knows he is faster
and more explosive than any defender he faced in college. He will
be hard-pressed to get away with this consistently as a pro. He
does not lack for power, but there are not enough runs in which
he pushes the pile nor does he win consistently enough at the point
of contact. This is due to average strength in his lower half and
a tendency to stop or slow his feet on power runs. While Spears
is built well, he may lack the necessary bulk to run inside more
than a handful of times each game consistently. He also carries
the ball almost exclusively in his right hand and does not use his
other hand often enough to protect the ball in close quarters. Spears
was also not asked to contribute much as a returner in college and
it may be hard to ask him to do it now based on the knee injuries
he has already suffered.
Spears has a bright future in the NFL, although it is fair to
wonder if he is stuck in that middle ground of being too good
to be a complementary player and too small to be a featured back.
The former should be his floor. His ability to stay healthy may
be his only roadblock, however, because he is a player coaches
will want to feed. Even if he only adds five or so pounds of muscle
- he reportedly weighed in at 205 after the combine - he should
have the necessary size to quiet concerns about his size. The
2022 AAC Player of the Year finished the year - and his college
career - with eight consecutive 100-yard rushing performances.
Included in that run was a 35-carry, 181-yard effort to close
out the regular season and a 22-carry, 199-yard performance the
There is little question he can handle a heavy workload, but
the lack of size and his injury history begs the question of whether
he can do so over the course of a full NFL season. Spears rarely
got the opportunity to show off his ability in the passing game
- as a receiver or as a blocker. He was still able to show flashes
of his potential in this area (refer to the "route-running/hands"
section above for examples), but his ability to be a matchup nightmare
- which he should be a lock given his quickness and explosiveness
- is a bit of a mystery. He likely answered those questions and
any about his ability to run routes with his work at Senior Bowl
practices and NFL Combine, but it would have been nice to see
more evidence of it than that.
So is Spears a Tony Pollard type in which his workload is capped
at around 15 touches per game or will he eventually be able to
consistently work his way into the low 20s? Does it matter? In
today's NFL where more and more coaches are pushing for two- and
three-man committees, it probably matters very little. Spears
does not need a lot of work to leave his mark on a game and can
rip off chunk gains in a league that prioritizes that ability.
He is a top-five back in this class and that may be underselling
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He
is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.