Honorable Mention Selection Criteria Side Stories

Penn State Jinx

BEFORE . . . 

AND AFTER

penn state2
Joe Pa blindly trusted a long-time friend. However, I have a hard time believing that he intentionally looked the other way? Cancer may have killed him, but he died of a broken heart.

Synopsis: Have you ever heard of the Penn State Jinx? In case you’re haven’t, it refers to the apparent inability of Penn State running backs to succeed in the NFL. As support, I offer D.J. Dozier, Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, and Curtis Enis. Despite their lackluster professional careers, these former Nittany Lions escaped my T10B countdown due to a variety of exemptions. 


PENN STATE JINX

As the following table shows, Penn State had some accomplished running backs in the 1980s and 90s.

PENN STATE RUNNING BACKS – COLLEGE HIGHLIGHTS
Player /
Draft Pick
Yards from Scrimmage Yards per Carry (YPC) TD Award Finish / NCAA Ranking
D.J. Dozier
#14 in 1987
3,840 5.2 29 8th – Heisman
Blair Thomas
#2 in 1990
3,778 5.4 23 10th – Heisman
Ki-Jana Carter
#1 in 1995
3,001 7.2 34 2nd – Heisman
1st in YPC
2nd in TDs
Curtis Enis
#5 in 1998
3,762 6.8 38 5th – Heisman
9th in Yds
6th in TDs

Based on these accomplishments, the players deserved being high draft picks. Unfortunately, the following table highlights that each one failed to live up to expectations.

PENN STATE RUNNING BACKS – NFL CAREER STATS
Player /
Draft Pick
Games Yards from Scrimmage Yards per Carry (YPC) TD Fumbles Weighted Career Approx. Value (WCAV)
D.J. Dozier
#14 in 1987
43 992 4.0 9 4 8
Blair Thomas
#2 in 1990
64 2,749 4.2 9 8 20
Ki-Jana Carter
#1 in 1995
59 1,613 3.6 21 6 12
Curtis Enis
#5 in 1998
36 1,925 3.3 6 5 10

Despite the significant underperformance by these former Nittany Lions, they all escaped making the countdown of Top 10 Busts. If you’re a fan of any of the teams that drafted these players, you likely remember being upset with them. At the same time, you should understand why they have been excluded from my ranking.

D.J. DOZIER

As a #14 pick, D.J. Dozier received the Brady Quinn Exemption. Of note, he went too low in the draft to be considered an all-time bust. If you’re interested in how low is too low, click on the blue link in the previous sentence.

Interestingly, Dozier became a baseball prospect after his football career ended.

dozier
D.J. was no Bo and didn’t know baseball.

Perhaps Dozier cut his football career short because he had MLB as a back-up plan. However, he had even less success on the baseball field. Of note, he only batted .191 in the majors with 9 hits in 47 at bats. Hey Mr. DJ, don’t think of yesterday, but even Madonna Mendoza would have been worried with a batting average that low.

Interestingly, 1984 #9 pick Alan Cockrell (the guy to Dozier’s left) proved to be an even worse MLB prospect. Despite being drafted immediately ahead of Mark McGwire, Cockrell only got two hits in eight career at bats. With those career stats, only Moonlight Graham would have been envious.

BLAIR THOMAS

Draft by the Jets with the 2nd overall pick in the 1990 Draft, Blair Thomas finished his career with almost 2,750 yards from scrimmage. He also had 9 touchdowns and a WCAV of 20. Somehow, I imagine Jets fans remained fixated on his 8 career fumbles instead.

blair thomas
Sorry Jets fans but Thomas just wasn’t bad enough.

With those numbers, he just wasn’t unproductive enough to be called a Top 10 Bust. Instead, he escaped the countdown with the Tony Mandarich Exemption.

KI-JANA CARTER

On the third carry of his first preseason game as a rookie, Ki-Jana Carter suffered a season-ending injury. Specifically, he tore his ACL in that game. After recovering, he missed significant time in subsequent seasons due to injuries such as a torn rotator cuff, broken wrist and dislocated knee cap.

kijana
Even Barry Bonds would be envious of that elbow pad. 

During Carter’s 10-year career, his missed three full seasons. Furthermore, he only had more than 20 carries in three of the seven seasons in which he saw any playing time. Looking at those elbow pads, I’m reminded of the Astro Turf injuries that ruined too many careers back then. Regardless, Carter gets the Steve Emtman Exemption, which applies to players whose careers were cut short by injuries.

CURTIS ENIS

By the age of 24, Enis had retired from the NFL with a degenerative knee condition. Enis’ knee problems began with a torn ACL during the 9th game (and 1st start) of his rookie season with the Bears. Presumably, Enis tore his ACL during the 3rd quarter of the game, but stayed in and played most of the 4th quarter as well. After three years of injuries, Enis just couldn’t get up anymore.

curtis enis
Where’s First Alert when you need it?

Enis’ torn ACL (along with his willingness to continue to play with the injury) should be enough to earn the Steve Emtman Exemption. Still, I paused because a local sportswriter questioned the legitimacy of the injury. In particular, the writer wondered how Enis could stay in the game and bear the excruciating pain of a torn ACL given the player’s previous reactions to discomfort. Specifically, Enis had taken himself out of games for shortness of breath, back spasms (after a non-contact play), and an upset stomach (i.e. a tummy ache).

Care to guess the name of the sportswriter? Perhaps it’ll help knowing that he has relocated to Dallas. Still nothing? Well, it was none other than First Take’s Skip Bayles. For that reason alone, I’ll give Enis the benefit of the doubt. Apparently, Bayles enjoyed taking a polarizing stance well before he started to spar with Steven Ayy  Smith.

Individually, each of these running backs avoided the distinction of being a Top 10 Bust. Collectively, they deserve recognition and help perpetuate the idea of a Penn State Jinx. Out of the four, D.J. Dozier stands out as the most deserving of an Honorable Mention. His excuse of quitting football to pursue an equally pathetic MLB career just doesn’t protect him enough.

PENN STATE JINX

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