Indiana football, the owners and proprietors of the Big Ten’s One True Memorial Stadium, has reached a point where one of its 15 highest-rated recruits in the modern history of the program transferred and it was ... fine!
We’re talking about Ronnie Walker, the former four-star running back out of Virginia, who was IU’s No. 13 recruit of the recruiting rankings era, according to 247Sports. Walker transferred to Virginia in the offseason after finishing fourth on the team in carries last season and fifth in rushing yards – he was third among running backs in both categories, behind Stevie Scott and Sampson James.
Of course, the statement posed in the lede of this story is not characteristic of all of IU’s position groups or the program’s standing historically but hey, in the year 2020, the Hoosiers’s running back corps might be one of The Few Things That Are Good.
Walker joined Ivory Winters and Cole Gest as IU running backs who have transferred since the start of last season. We wish them all the best. But they transferred because the running backs who remain in Bloomington are that good – that they didn’t see a path to significant playing time behind Scott and James.
Heck, even James put his name in the transfer portal before ultimately returning to IU.
Entering the season, here’s what IU’s depth at the position looks like:
- RB Stevie Scott – Jr. – 6-2, 231 lbs.
- RB Sampson James – So. – 6-1, 220 lbs.
- RB David Ellis or RB Ahrod Lloyd or RB Tim Baldwin Jr.
Scott, now a junior, enters the 2020 season needing just 18 rushing yards to reach 2,000 for his career. He’s the former freshman revelation who was no better than the 12th-best recruit in IU’s 2018 recruiting class (which was headlined by Walker), per 247Sports’s recruiting rankings. He was a workhorse back in 2018 with 1,137 rushing yards on a team-high 228 carries, before sharing the load with James last season. In 2019, Scott took 178 carries for 845 yards, both of which led the Hoosiers, while James had a secondary role with 81 carries for 275 yards.
Scott, a big, physical back at 6-2 and 231 pounds, became more involved in the passing game last season, too, catching 26 passes for 211 yards and a score, which gave him more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage on the season.
If Scott matches his 2019 rushing yards total – 845 yards – in 2020, he’d finish his junior season ranked eighth in program history in career rushing yards, behind Vaughn Dunbar in seventh. If 2020 were a full, 12-game regular season and Scott repeated his freshman year total – 1,137 yards – then he’d be sixth all-time, behind Tevin Coleman.
That’s the kind of class of player Scott could enter, historically speaking.
Assuming he’s a four-year starter in his career – and it could even be a five-year playing career given that this season won’t count against players’ eligibility – Scott will quite literally reach a place in IU history that puts him in between Anthony Thompson and Antwaan Randle El.
Scott may not be the top-10 Heisman Trophy finisher that Thompson, Randle El and Coleman were, or the top-three round NFL Draft pick that those players were, but he’s on a trajectory to be an all-time great at the position at the school, so IU fans should appreciate him as such as he’s at the midpoint of his career.
James will be RB2 to Scott’s RB1. On a per-carry basis last season, James was so-so, averaging 3.4 yards per carry on 81 carries, although a 22/118/1 slash line against Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game showed James’s potential while he filled in for Scott. It was James’s season-high in carries – 10 more than his second-highest total of 12 attempts against Eastern Illinois. It’s admittedly tough for a player, and for fans and bloggers on their couches, to make the most of two, four, seven carries per game.
If Old Oaken Bucket James can become the rule, and not the exception, then IU’s backfield becomes really dangerous.
IU will have to replace the carries of Peyton Ramsey (97 carries, which includes sacks) and Walker (27 carries), which opens the door for a third-string running back to potentially carve out a small role behind Scott and James, or else IU’s top two backs will just put a stranglehold on the bulk of an additional 100-plus carries.
Who could be in line to be RB3 for IU?
Ahrod Lloyd, who was named IU’s Outstanding Walk-On of the Year and who was awarded a scholarship last season, was third among IU’s returning running backs in carries last season with 10 for 19 yards, but David Ellis was more productive with nine attempts for 53 yards and a touchdown. Ellis, who ranked fifth in the Big Ten with a 20.7 yards per kick return average, is versatile, as he also hauled in 16 catches for 173 yards, so you could see him used in a number of ways in an expanded role in 2020 – in the backfield, in the slot, etc.
True freshman Tim Baldwin Jr. is the only running back on scholarship in IU’s freshman class. He was the Hoosiers’s fifth-highest rated freshman – a three-star recruit ranked among the top 1,000 players nationally.
If the talent of IU’s returning running backs forced three players at the position to transfer in the last year, and if the Hoosiers’s greatest question at the position is who’s in line for a third-string, 20-to-30 carry role for the season, then that’s a pretty good place to be.