BEFORE . . .
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.
- As a 14th overall pick, D.J. Dozier went too low (Brady Quinn Exemption).
- With almost 3,000 yards from scrimmage, Blair Thomas produced too much (Tony Mandarich Exemption).
- Both Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis had their careers end prematurely because of injuries (Steve Emtman Exemption).
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
|Yards from Scrimmage||Yards per Carry (YPC)||TD||Award Finish / NCAA Ranking|
#14 in 1987
|3,840||5.2||29||8th – Heisman|
#2 in 1990
|3,778||5.4||23||10th – Heisman|
#1 in 1995
|3,001||7.2||34||2nd – Heisman|
|1st in YPC
2nd in TDs
#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
|Games||Yards from Scrimmage||Yards per Carry (YPC)||TD||Fumbles||Weighted Career Approx. Value (WCAV)|
#14 in 1987
#2 in 1990
#1 in 1995
#5 in 1998
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.