In the late 1980s, the NFL was going through a rather special time. The 1985 Chicago Bears had dominated the entire league and shuffled their way to a Super Bowl title. A young John Elway was experiencing grand success during the regular season, but coming up short in multiple Super Bowls. The San Francisco 49ers were proving themselves to be not only one of the most popular teams in the league, but also one of the best behind star players such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. The Buffalo Bills that would go on to dominate the AFC and make four consecutive unsuccessful Super Bowl appearances were just being assembled. Right smack in the middle of it all was the 1987 NFL Draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the 1987 NFL Draft out by selecting quarterback Vinny Testaverde out of the University of Miami with the first overall pick. Testaverde played 21 seasons in the NFL for seven different teams; the Buccaneers, Browns, Ravens, Jets (two different stints), Cowboys, Patriots and Panthers. He would finish his career ranked high in many career passing categories, thanks more to his longevity than his on-field successes. The second quarterback taken in the draft came five picks later when the St. Louis Cardinals used the sixth pick on Colorado State’s Kelly Stouffer who would spend four less than remarkable seasons in the league with the Seattle Seahawks. The 13th pick in the 1987 NFL Draft was used by the Falcons to select the University of Oregon’s Chris Miller who went on to have a somewhat successful career running Atlanta’s run and shoot offense. The last quarterback taken in the first round that year was the University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, selected by the Chicago Bears with the 26th pick.
Rich Gannon ended up being probably the steal of the draft, although not for the team that selected him. The New England Patriots picked Gannon in the 4th round out of Delaware, but he wouldn’t go on to show what he could do until he got time as a starter for the Vikings and Chiefs, and then won a league MVP with the Raiders. The Raiders that year had picked Steve Beuerlein out of Notre Dame, and he went on to have a very productive career for a number of teams. Two other quarterbacks selected that year experienced some limited success in the league like Cody Carlson (3rd round) and Don Majkowski (10th round). One interesting selection that year was the Buccaneers using their 12th round pick on University of Alabama quarterback and future NFL head coach Mike Shula, who also happens to be the son of the winningest coach ever in the NFL, Don Shula. Other quarterbacks selected in the 1987 NFL Draft were Mark Vlasic in the 4th round by the Chargers, Kevin Sweeney in the 7th round by the Cowboys, Doug Hudson in the 7th round by the Chiefs, Sammy Garza in the 8th round by the Seahawks, Ken Lambiotte in the 9th round by the Eagles, John Paye in the 10th round by the 49ers, Brent Pease in the 11th round by the Vikings, Dave Walter in the 11th round by the Giants, Jim Karsatos in the 12th round by the Dolphins, and Bill Ransdell in the 12th round by the Jets.
The Running Backs
While there were serviceable running backs selected in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft, there were no superstars. The first running back selected in the 1987 NFL Draft was the University of Miami’s Alonzo Highsmith who was picked by the Oilers with the third choice in the draft. He was followed quickly by Auburn’s Brent Fullwood who was chosen with the fourth overall pick by the Packers. Penn State’s D.J. Dozier was taken with the 14th pick by the Vikings and then the Chiefs selected Temple’s Paul Palmer with the 19th pick. The 21st pick in the draft was Roger Vick who was taken by the Jets and then Rod Bernstine, who would play in the NFL as an H-Back or tight end, was chosen with the 24th pick by the Chargers, both players having played collegiately at Texas A&M. The last running back taken in the first round was Terrence Flagler out of Clemson.
The biggest impact at the position of running back made by a player selected in 1987 was made by Bo Jackson who the Raiders picked in the 7th round that year even though he was playing professional baseball for the Kansas City Royals at the time. Jackson would only play part-time over four seasons but would finish his career with 2,782 yards, a 5.4 yards per carry average and in three of his four seasons in the NFL he would put up the longest run from scrimmage of the year with touchdown runs of 91, 92 and 88 yards. Another player selected late in the draft that year, in the tenth round, who went on to have a very good career was Merril Hoge who, before becoming a studio analyst, was a stellar fullback for the Steelers. A number of other notable running backs were chosen in 1987 including Christian Okoye in the 2nd round by the Chiefs, Tim Manoa in the 3rd round by the Browns, Steve Smith in the 3rd round by the Raiders, Timmy Smith in the 5th round by the Redskins, Spencer Tillman in the 5th round by the Oilers, and Rick Fenney in the 8th round by the Vikings,.
Other running backs selected that year include Don Smith, Jamie Mueller, Bob Perryman, Troy Stradford, George Swarn, Tommie Agee, Marc Logan, Steve Bartalo, Tim Richardson, Warren Marshall, Kerry Porter, Tom Brown, Eddie Hunter, Michael Clemons, Joe Armentrout, Thomas Wilcher, Rick Calhoun, Alvin Blount, Tracy Ham, Alfred Jenkins, Lakei Heimuli, Dana Wright, David McCluskey, James Evans, Reggie Taylor, Chris McLemore, Darryl Oliver, Tim Jessie, Tommy Neal, David Adams, Marcus Greenwood, Ira Valentine, Bobby Morse, Larry Emery, Tony Burse, Alonzo Williams, John Holifield, Chad Stark and Elgin Davis.
The 1987 draft was considered weak in the receiver department, and this is evident in the first round as a receiver wasn’t picked until Haywood Jeffires was selected by the Oilers with the 20th overall pick. Jeffires would go on to have a very solid career, making three consecutive Pro Bowls and also leading the league in receptions in 1991 when he caught 100 passes. No other receivers would be taken in the first round until the last two selections when the Broncos picked Ricky Nattiel from the University of Florida with the 27th selection and then the Giants took Mark Ingram out of Michigan State with the 28th pick. Nattiel would only play six seasons in the NFL, but would be an important part of the Broncos receiving corps. Ingram would play ten years in the league with the Giants, Dolphins Packers and Eagles.
Other notable receivers chosen in the 1987 NFL Draft include Lonzell Hill picked in the 2nd round by the Saints, Mark Carrier in the 3rd round by the Buccaneers, Stephen Baker picked in the 3rd round by the Giants, Kelvin Martin picked in the 4th round by the Cowboys, Odessa Turner picked in the 4th round by the Giants, Keith McKeller picked in the 9th round by the Bills, and Curtis Duncan picked in the 10th round by the Oilers.
Other receivers taken that year were Ron Morris, Scott Schwedes, Charles Lockett, Frankie Neal, Jim Riggs, Bruce Hill, Roy Banks, Everett Gay, Kitrick Taylor, Paul Jokisch, Willie Marshall, Thomas Henley, Greg Richardson, Tracy Martin, Gene Taylor, Jon Embree, Mark Bellini, Jamie Holland, Chris Kelly, Derek Tennell, Wilbur Strozier, William Harris, Michael James, Joel Williams, Rod Jones, Joey Clinkscales, Scott Eccles, Raynard Brown, Robert Clark, Jerry Reese, Louis Clark, Ted Wilson, Brian Silverling, Arthur Wells, Mario Perry, Craig Richardson, Calvin Nicholas, Laron Brown, Gary Lee, and Theo Young.
Some great players were taken in the 1987 NFL Draft and many went on to play important roles for their teams. Some of the big name players picked in the early rounds that year were Bills linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Shane Conlan, Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown, Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton, Patriots offensive lineman Bruce Armstrong, and Raiders kicker Jeff Jaeger. One of the best parts about looking back at NFL Drafts of the past is seeing what late round picks ended up paying off. In 1987, in addition to some of the names previously listed, some of the best mid-to-late round draft picks were linebacker Hardy Nickerson in the 5th round, defensive lineman Dan Saleamua in the 7th round, offensive lineman Kevin Gogan and defensive back Toi Cook in the 8th round, and guard John Gesek in the 10th round. One of the best late round selections that year was made by the Broncos. With the 334th pick overall, the second-to-last selection in the draft, Denver chose defensive back Tyrone Braxton. Braxton would play twelve seasons for the team, make it to a Pro Bowl, and lead the league in interceptions in 1996.
The 1987 NFL Draft was not overloaded with superstar talent, but definitely had a number of great players and even some that can be included in discussions of best ever at their position.
Interesting facts about the 1987 NFL Draft:
-This was the second time that Bo Jackson had been taken in the NFL Draft, having been drafted in the first round with the first overall pick in the 1986 draft.
-The first player drafted in 1987 who would go on to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was cornerback Rod Woodson.
-The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would choose a quarterback with their first (Vinny Testaverde – 1st round) and last pick (Mike Shula – 12th round) in the draft.
-D.J. Dozier would also dabble in being a two-sport star, playing baseball for the New York Mets.
-In the second round of the 1987 draft, there was at one point six consecutive linebackers chosen: Johnny Holland, Alex Gordon, Rick Graf, Ray Berry, David Wyman, and Walter Johnson.
-Three of the first ten picks in the draft were from the University of Miami. Vinny Testaverde with the first pick, Alonzo Highsmith with the third pick, and Jerome Brown with the ninth pick.