Steelers Throwback Thursday: Standouts of the ’87 draft class

Steel City Underground takes fans back in time to feature events, special moments, and historical times and players in the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation. Join us as we revisit these moments in our “Steelers Throwback Thursday” series.

The NFL Draft wasn’t always the huge ceremonial event it has become, but plenty of Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been keen on following the team’s moves throughout the years; some made it an annual holiday-type hobby to religiously follow. The 1987 NFL Draft was the last time the event was held during the week (not on a weekend), and there were several notable, players that the Steelers selected that year. We look back at the class and highlight the standouts for the black and gold.

Embed from Getty Images

Rod Woodson (Round 1, no. 10)

Woodson is arguably the most-remembered pick for the Steelers in this 1987 draft class. That he was available for Pittsburgh in the first round is already an amazing story, but the fact the Hall of Famer was not someone the Steelers spent much time scouting is another. As Bob Labriola of wrote:

Once the Steelers returned from having seen Woodson perform in Indianapolis (in January 1987), and the scouts and coaches gathered to put schedules together to re-visit some of the players, Tony Dungy, then the defensive coordinator, said Chuck Noll had told him not to bother scheduling a visit to Purdue because there was no way Woodson would still be on the board when it came time for the Steelers to make the 10th overall pick of the first round.

Woodson played in 44 games as a Purdue Boilermaker, recording 445 tackles and 11 interceptions in the defensive backfield while also playing running back, receiver, punt and kickoff returner, and running track as an outstanding hurdler. Woodson’s 4.31 40-yard dash time was eye-opening.

Woodson spent ten seasons with the Steelers and logged 38 interceptions for 779 yards and five touchdowns primarily as a cornerback. Woodson also returned 257 punts for 2,362 yards and two touchdowns. He returned 220 kickoffs for 4,894 yards and two touchdowns.

After numerous awards and seven more seasons in the league, Woodson retired only to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Steelers in 2009.

Embed from Getty Images

Greg Lloyd (Round 6, no. 150)

Lloyd, who famously sported a tee that read, “I wasn’t hired for my disposition,” at training camp in 1993, was another linebacker in a line of linebacker greats to play for the Steelers. His collegiate football career was played as a member of the Fort Valley State Wildcats, an NCAA Division II school in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He was not invited to the Pro Scouting Combine, but was scouted in the Heritage Bowl, a historically black college All-Star game and worked out for the scout Tom Donahoe.

In ten seasons with Pittsburgh, Lloyd was named first-team All-Pro three times (1993-1995), was a two-time NFL forced fumbles co-leader (1994, 1995), and earned five Pro Bowl bids (1991-1995). That’s the type of career any player from a Division I school would be proud to own.

Lloyd was a sideline-to-sideline menace but also a terror to opposing quarterbacks. In 131 games with the Steelers, Lloyd grabbed 10 interceptions, forced 34 fumbles, had 53.5 sacks, and 727 combined tackles.

Embed from Getty Images

Merril Hoge (Round 10, no. 261)

Hoge was a three-time all-Big Sky Conference selection (1984-1986) at running back for Idaho State. He set an NCAA record in 1985 with 2,114 all-purpose yards (192.1 per game) and set the school record 1,041 rushing yards. At the end of his collegiate career, Hoge had an NCAA record 5,453 all-purpose yards and 31 touchdowns.

In the modern era, a tenth-round selection is not only an impossibility, but would traditionally signify a pick used on a player that might make the squad if he showed promise in training camp or be used for development and depth.

Hoge, however, moved from running back to fullback in Pittsburgh and carried the ball 819 times for 3,115 yards and 21 touchdowns in his seven seasons with the team. His primary rushing partners were Warren Williams and Earnest Jackson early in his career. In 1990, he was rushing with and blocking for Tim Worley, Williams and Barry Foster (sparingly). Hoge recorded 241 catches for 2,054 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns as well.

“Find a way. Those words have helped me live a dream and fight to live.” – Merril Hoge

In 1994, Hoge suffered two serious head injuries after joining the Chicago Bears and was forced into retirement from playing in the league after he had to be resuscitated and placed into intensive care. Hoge worked with Steelers team doctor Joseph Maroon and went on to actively campaign for improvements in player safety, especially surrounding head injuries, in the league while moving into broadcasting and public speaking.


Embed from Getty Images

Hardy Nickerson (Round 5, no. 122)

Nickerson was straight out of Compton, similar to the movie of the same title, and played collegiate football for the University of California Golden Bears. While his prime playing years didn’t occur in Pittsburgh but in Tampa Bay, Nickerson provided the Steelers six years of play, recording five forced fumbles, 9.5 sacks, and 426 tackles.

Embed from Getty Images

Other members of the class

Delton Hall (DB, Rd. 2)
Charles Lockett (WR, Rd. 3)
Thomas Everett (DB, Rd. 4)
Tim Johnson (DT, Rd. 6)
Chris Kelley (TE, Rd. 7)
Charles Buchanan (DE, Rd. 8)
Joey Clinkscales (WR, Rd. 9)
Paul Oswald (C, Rd. 11)
Theo Young (TE, Rd. 12)

Suggested articles from our sponsors