Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s running back corps received a huge upgrade Sunday when 2018 FCS All-American Shane Simpson committed to the Cavaliers over the Texas Longhorns after just four days in the transfer portal. Simpson — a 5-foot-11, 205-pound back who appeared in 35 games for Towson over five seasons — made the decision to transfer after the Colonial Athletic Association decided to cancel the fall football season. As a graduate transfer, Simpson will be immediately eligible for what will be his final collegiate season.
Simpson brings versatility to a Cavalier backfield that desperately needs it. Despite only playing three games in the 2019 season, Simpson’s 2018 All-American campaign showed exactly what he brings to the table. In 2018, Simpson topped 2,000 all purpose yards, finding 711 yards on the ground, 356 yards through the air, 887 kick return yards and 104 punt return yards while also scoring 12 touchdowns.
Simpson’s arrival brings five years of experience and a versatile skill set that will complement the other running backs on the team. Earlier in the offseason, the Cavaliers received a commitment from Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker Jr., who joined incumbents junior Wayne Taulapapa and sophomore Mike Hollins following the departure of PK Kier and Lamont Atkins. While Taulapapa and Hollins both showed toughness on the ground last season, Virginia relied heavily on Kier and Atkins for their speed and pass-catching abilities. Nevertheless, both Simpson and Walker serve as huge upgrades, not only replacing the lost pass catchers out of the backfield, but providing a dynamic run game that will soften the blow of quarterback Bryce Perkins’ departure.
While Simpson brings several dynamic aspects to his game, he may see his game flourish the most as a go-to returner under Mendenhall. After losing prolific kick returner Joe Reed to the NFL Draft this year, Simpson provides Mendenhall with an immediate replacement.
Simpson and Walker Jr. transferring indicates the direction Mendenhall and Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae want to take with the offense in the upcoming season. With two dual threat quarterbacks — Brennan Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson — at the helm and a variety of backs in the backfield, the Cavalier offense could look to rely heavily on the run game in 2020. Following the graduation of Perkins and leading receivers Reed and Hasise Dubois, the passing game has several question marks. Adding a versatile back like Simpson should help the Cavaliers transition to a new style of offense that expands the use of the option and backfield passing.
Following the ACC’s decision to move to a 10-game conference schedule with one non-conference opponent, Virginia football is slated to kick-off its season the week of Sept. 7. The Cavaliers’ opponent and location for the game is to be determined.