Twenty-first century geology enthusiast Frank Ocean once eloquently mused:
“I know pyrite from 24 karat. Cubic’s from genuine diamond, yeah. I know when it’s real. I know the difference between what you say and how you feel.”
While many experts believe Ocean’s song, “Pyrite (Fool’s Gold),” is speaking about being able to recognize what is real versus what is fake as it pertains to love and relationships, I dare to contend that Ocean was actually talking about Titans running back Tyjae Spears. I think Ocean and I would agree when I say that we both view Spears as the ultimate example of “fool’s gold” in dynasty right now.
On the surface, Spears seems like a clear “buy” candidate.
Spears is young. He’s a rookie. He represents Day 2 draft capital spent by the Titans. And most importantly, he has looked electric when given opportunities this season. Not only that, but it is no secret that Derrick Henry is 30 years old and an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 season.
The dynasty community is well aware of all these factors working in Spears’ favor. He is currently a top 24 RB on KeepTradeCut. He ranks 103rd in the NFL in scrimmage yards (heading into Week 11).
Most experts are touting Spears as a great “buy” candidate, with Henry’s future so uncertain in Tennessee after 2023. The idea is that Spears’ value is significantly lower right now as Henry’s backup than it will be once he is finally crowned the new king in Tennessee heading into 2024. But I’m not so sure that Spears actually meets those lofty expectations in 2024. Given the relatively short-lived and volatile nature of any given RB career, I think Spears is a “sell” disguised as a “buy.” This is especially true, given how convinced the community seems to be that Spears will be the next great fantasy running back.
Wait, how can Spears — whom I’ve already said is young, electric, and relatively highly invested in by the Titans — be a “sell”? Once Henry leaves in free agency after the season, isn’t it “wheels up” for Spears?
Well, that’s just it. Are we SURE that Henry is leaving after this season?
We saw how brutal the free agency market was for running backs like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs last off-season. Despite being two of the top players in the league at the position, Barkley and Jacobs had to settle for the franchise tag.
This coming off-season will be even worse for the position. Joining Barkley, Jacobs, and Henry as free agents will be Tony Pollard, Austin Ekeler, D’Andre Swift, Antonio Gibson, Kareem Hunt, Zack Moss, and AJ Dillon, among others. With so many decent options on the market and so few teams willing to splash cash on the position in free agency, are we that sure Henry — who, again, is older and has more career touches than those other free-agent RBs — is going to get a lucrative offer from another team?
The Titans will have over $100 million in cap space for 2024. That huge number will likely come down once Tennessee re-signs or replaces their departing players who are off the books for 2024. The point is that the Titans will have plenty of cash to spend this coming off-season. Remember, they are in that golden window of roster building where they have their starting quarterback on a rookie contract. Are we so sure they wouldn’t be willing to bring Henry back for 2024 on some kind of reasonable short-term deal? Maybe $10 million-ish for one year? Are we sure another NFL team would be keen on topping that kind of offer in free agency when they would barely consider much younger stud RBs last off-season at that same price?
Henry is a Titans legend and is still unquestionably the face of the franchise. He has shown no desire to jump ship or force his way out of town. I’ve done several unscientific studies online that all suggest that the majority of Titans fans support bringing Henry back. Many want to see Henry retire as a Titan.
It makes sense. After all, Henry proves he is still a very good player and productive in fantasy football. Heading into Week 10, Henry is still an RB1 (RB12 in PPR, RB10 in half). He is still on pace for 1,200 rushing yards and 8 scores to go along with 36 catches. Despite his age and mileage, Henry can still play!
Mike Vrabel and likely Will Levis will be back in 2024. This means the smash-mouth, run-heavy identity in Tennessee will remain on the menu. Even if Henry did decide to leave, I doubt Tennessee wants to hand Spears a Jacobs or McCaffrey-type workload in 2024. Spears had major injury concerns coming out of college.
Also, as Tony Pollard has shown us this season, it’s not always a great idea to beat up your Ferrari and use it like a Toyota Camry.
The Titans drafted Spears in Round 3 in 2023. So, while that level of draft capital is solid, it’s not as though he was a first-round pick whom the front office expects to handle every touch next year.
The time is now to sell Spears. Act before the rest of the community catches up to the idea that Henry could be brought back. Another running back could be signed or drafted as well. Right now, it feels like the consensus is that Spears is primed for a huge leap in dynasty value. Most seem to believe it’s only a matter of time before Henry moves on and Spears takes on his role.
I would immediately snap up any first-round pick for Spears right now. I’d even consider an early second-rounder or the equivalent as well. Anything less than that, and I probably hold Spears because, like we’ve said, he is talented. I’m not one to speak in absolutes. He could be the next superstar.
My favorite dynasty move, though, is to use Spears as a sweetener to move a mid-late second-round pick for a solid first-round pick. Many Spears managers might balk at a first-round price tag, but Spears might move the needle enough to move a 2 for a 1. Spears might also allow you to land a premium asset in return if you’re willing to add more on top of Spears.
The moment Henry re-signs, even on a one-year deal, the opportunity to realize a premium return for Spears evaporates. Managers won’t want to buy into another full season of RB42 production (as of Week 11). And in today’s RB climate, it is hard to project out two full seasons with any amount of confidence. This is especially the case with Spears carrying only third-round draft capital.
Overall, I like Spears as a prospect. He looks electric with the ball in his hands. He looks like a real asset in the passing game, as well. But I am hesitant to automatically assume his talent would be most effectively utilized in a workhorse role. The possibility is real that Tennessee ultimately views Spears as that 2022 Tony Pollard-like ancillary weapon. And right now, the community views Spears as much more than that. Capitalize.