Purdue bolstered its running backs room late Sunday when former Central Michigan back Kobe Lewis announced he would be transferring to play for the Boilermakers. Lewis will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out all of last season because of a knee injury.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Lewis was a bit player as a true freshman with the Chippewas in 2018, but had outstanding campaigns in 2019 and 2020, running for a combined 1,542 yards on 5.4 yards per carry with 18 touchdowns over 20 games (Central Michigan played only six games in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic). That total included a 2019 campaign in which he rushed for more than 1,000 yards, scored 12 touchdowns and picked up nearly six yards per carry.
He was part of a 1-2 punch in that backfield in which both backs gained 1,000 yards, so he did not have to shoulder the load himself. Over the 2019 and '20 campaigns, Lewis also caught 40 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown. Purdue's offensive line struggled to run-block last season and the Boilermakers often utilized swing passes to their running backs as a way to offset the downfield passing game, much like a rushing attack would usually do. If Purdue's line struggles again, Lewis could excel in a pass-catching role.
At Purdue, Lewis will likely be part of a running-back-by-committee situation. The Boilermakers were looking for depth at the position following the departures of seventh-round NFL Draft pick Zander Horvath and wide receiver/running back hybrid Jackson Anthrop, but they have a couple of players who, taken together, should be able to fill those shoes.
Lewis's primary competition for the No. 1 running back spot is likely to be senior King Doerue, who is a tough runner but has posted only middling raw stats over his first three seasons on campus, never breaking four yards per carry (again, the offensive line had something to do with that last year). In addition to Doerue, Lewis will have to compete with Indiana transfer Sampson James. James, a highly-touted four-star recruit out of Avon in the 2019 class, transferred to Purdue in August, but was ineligible to play last season. He never really got on track with the Hoosiers, but the Boilers are betting they can bring some of the brilliance he flashed in high school to the surface.
The wild card is Iowa transfer Tyrone Tracy, who is technically a wide receiver, but will likely line up in the backfield at times, as Anthrop did. The possibility of using Tracy in a Deebo Samuel-type role means there could be fewer opportunities for other Boiler backs, which should make the competition even fiercer. Getting the best from that room, which has a lot of experience but no clear No. 1 heading into fall camp, will be a priority for Purdue's offensive coaching staff.
In April, it looked as though Purdue might be somewhat short on offensive playmakers next season following the departures of Anthrop, Horvath and David Bell and the reported departure of presumptive No. 1 receiver Milton Wright (though the Boilermakers have not removed Wright from their online roster and his Twitter bio still lists him as a Purdue wide receiver), but the Boilers have bolstered their team speed and depth at the skill positions with the additions of Lewis and former Iowa receiver and return man Charlie Jones within the last month. Add in Tracy, who also transferred from Iowa following the 2021 campaign, and Purdue is piling up weapons for returning All-Big Ten quarterback Aidan O'Connell.
Watching him on film, Lewis has excellent change-of-direction ability for a bigger back and can get into top gear quickly after making a move. Many of his best runs are one-cut-and-go sprints where he outraces everyone. Obviously it will be tougher to do that in the Big Ten than it was in the MAC, but Lewis is not afraid of contact and can run over tacklers who are in his way. He has a knack for falling forward and picking up an extra yard or two, which should make him effective in goal-line situations.