Denver Broncos Greats... By The Numbers: #87


Minus Wide Receiver Eric Decker, fourteen different men wore the #87 jersey for the Denver Broncos in franchise history. Six Tight Ends, four Wide Receivers (actually five), two Defensive Ends and a Running Back. At first glance, three players stand out right away. However, there are two Ring of Fame members that wore this jersey. This should be an enlightening experience for some of you. So let's take a look at the lineup. 

                   Eric Decker WR 2010-Present                
Jeb Putzier TE 2008
David Kircus WR 2006
Ed McCaffrey WR 1995-2003
Cedric Tillman WR 1992-94
Pat Kelly TE 1989
Jason Johnson WR 1988
Bobby Micho RB 1986-87
James Wright TE 1980-85
Bill Larson TE 1980
Bob Moore TE 1978
Boyd Brown TE 1974-76
John Hoffman DE 1972
Rich Jackson DE 1967-72
Lionel Taylor E 1960-66

Eric Decker is the current possessor of the #87 jersey. He was drafted by the Broncos in the 3rd round (87th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was recovering from a Lisfranc injury to his foot before the draft. Decker was able to rehabilitate from the injury to play in 14 games last season, mostly on Special Teams. He returned 22 Kickoffs for a 25.3 average, good for 10th in the league. He caught 6 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown, Fumble 3 times and recovered two. Eric ranked 3rd on the team with 9 Special-Teams Tackles.


John Hoffman was signed by the Redskins in 1969 as an Undrafted Free Agent out of Hawaii and USC. He spent 2 years in Washington, then played one year in Chicago before joining the Broncos for 2 games (1 start) in 1972.

Boyd Brown was drafted by the Broncos in the 17th round (432nd overall) of the 1974 NFL Draft. He spent 3 years in Denver from 1974-76. Boyd appeared in 40 games, finishing with one 14-yard catch and 6 Kickoff returns for 97 yards, a 16.2 average. He finished his career with the New York Giants in 1977.


Bob Moore was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 5th round (123rd overall) of the 1971 NFL Draft. He spent 5 seasons in Oakland and two in Tampa Bay before joining the Broncos in 1978. Moore played one year in Denver, starting 2 of 8 games and compiling no recordable stats.

Bill Larson was an Undrafted Free Agent out of Colorado State, who signed with the 49ers in 1975. He played in San Francisco for one season. Larson was out of the league in 1976 and split time between the Detroit Lions and the  Washington Redskins in 1977. 1978 saw Bill with the Philadelphia Eagles and then another hiatus in 1979. Finally, in 1980, he played 9 games with the Green Bay Packers and 2 games with the Broncos. Larson caught one 7-yard pass with Denver. MHR member wtnelson added this: Today he works as an EMT and info guy for Denver fire. He also has taught First- Aid courses, and he’s active with his family in the Windsor community. 

Jason Johnson was an Undrafted Free Agent out of Illinois State who the Broncos signed in 1988. Johnson appeared in 8 games, returned 14 Kickoffs for a 20.9 average, one Punt for 5 yards, rushed for 3 yards on one carry and caught a 6-yard pass. He lost one Fumble and recovered one.

Pat Kelly was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 7th round (174th overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. You might be feeling a bit of Deja Vu since he wore #86 during his rookie year. In 1989, Kelly started 1 of 16 games, caught a 3-yard pass, returned one Kickoff 4 yards and Fumbled once.

Bobby Micho was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 10th round (272nd overall) of the 1984 NFL Draft. He was released before the regular season began, got picked up by the Chargers and played 6 games that year. Micho reacquainted himself with the Broncos in 1986 and appeared in 5 games wearing #87. In 1987, the Player Strike occurred. Micho was one of the players who crossed the picket line to play during the strike. That is when he compiled meaningful stats, but he also wore #46 at that time.

David Kircus was drafted by the Lions in the 6th round (175th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent 2 years in Detroit before joining the Broncos in 2006. In David's lone season in Denver, he played in all 16 games and caught 16 passes for 187 yards, a 20.8 average. Kircus returned 6 punts for a 14.3 average and 2 Kickoffs for a 19.0 average. He was released by the Broncos during training camp in 2007 and then went through Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins in 2008 before being released. In 2009 David enlisted with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League. He led them in receiving and they went on to win the 2009 UFL Championship. Kircus played for the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks in 2010, but was released in September and is currently a free agent.

Cedric Tillman was drafted by the Broncos in the 11th round (305th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft. He played 3 seasons in Denver from 1992-94. Tillman started 7 of 39 games, with 57 catches for 859 yards, a 15.1 average and 4 touchdowns. Cedric Fumbled twice and recovered one. he went on to play one more year in his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995

Jeb Putzier was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 6th round (191st overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft. He played 4 years for the Broncos wearing #88, before leaving to play for the Houston Texans in 2006-07. Jeb returned in 2008, donned #87 and played in 2 games with one Kick Return for no yards. He was cut before the end of Training camp in 2009. After a year off, Putzier emerged in United Football League, playing first with the Hartford Colonials. His current team is the Omaha Nighthawks.


James Wright was drafted by the Falcons in the 7th round (179th overall) of the 1978 NFL Draft. He was with Atlanta for 2 seasons and became a Bronco in 1980 and stayed through 1985. Wright started 31 of 64 games in those 6 years, caught 64 passes for 640 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 carries for (-4) yards, Fumbling twice and recovering two.


Ed McCaffrey was drafted by the New York Giants in the 3rd round (83rd overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft. He played 3 years with the Giants from 1991-1993. In 1994, "Easy Ed" played for the San Francisco 49ers and won the first of 3 Super Bowl Rings. The following year, McCaffrey shadowed Mike Shanahan all the way to Denver, where he stick around for 9 years.

Considered one of the best route-runners in the game, Ed went over-the-middle, tip-toed on the sideline and out jumped his way to help the Broncos win back-to-back Championships in 1997-98. He had an exceptional performance in Super Bowl XXXIII, grabbing 5 catches for 72 yards. Also in 1999, McCaffrey and teammate Rod Smith became only the 2nd Wide Receiver duo from the same team to reach 100 receptions in the same season (Herman Moore and Brett Perriman).

McCaffrey suffered a compound leg fracture in the opening game of the 2001 season, a Monday Night Football game against the Giants. On the play that he sustained the injury, Ed made a spectacular catch and did not fumble the ball. He rebounded in the 2002 season with 69 catches and 903 yards. McCaffrey barely played in 2003 because of concussion and quadriceps problems and never quite recovered after the broken leg. Still hampered by injuries and a disappointing 2003 season, Ed retired on February 29, 2004. 

He finished his 9-year career with the Broncos, starting 105 of 121 games, 462 receptions for 6,200 yards and 46 touchdowns. He had 21 yards on 3 carries, Fumbled 3 times and recovered two.


League Accolades

  • 3× Super Bowl champion (XXIX, XXXII, XXXIII)
  • 1× Pro Bowl selection (1998)
  • 1× All-Pro selection (1998)


Bronco Achievements

  • 2-Three Touchdown Games
  • 18-100 Yard Games
  • 4-Time 60+ catch Seasons
  • 3-1,000 yard seasons
  • 4th Most Career Receptions (462)
  • 4th Most Career Receiving Yards (6,200)
  • 4th Most Receiving Yards, Season (1,317)
  • 3rd Most Career Touchdown Receptions (46)
  • 2nd Most Consecutive Games with a Reception (68)
  • Led the Team in touchdown catches (1998-2000)
  • Led the Team in Receptions for a then Bronco record (101). Rod Smith caught 113 the next year (2001), while Ed was recovering from the broken leg.
Eddie Mac will probably be mostly remembered for his peel-back block on Packers Linebacker Brian Williams in Super Bowl XXXII where he pointed at him and said some unrepeated words. When asked multiple times what he said to Williams on that play, Ed responds, "I can't say. I'm taking that one to the grave." 

McCaffrey also has his own brand of Horseradish sauce, Rocky Mountain brown mustard and "Honey Nut Toasted Oats box of Ed's End Zone O's" cereal which can be found in grocery stores throughout Colorado. He does public speaking engagements and runs the annual Ed McCaffrey Football Camp for kids.


Rich Jackson went Undrafted out of Southern University, signing with the AFL Oakland Raiders in 1966. He joined the AFL Denver Broncos in 1967 and played through the league merger into 1971, and splitting the 1972 season between Denver and the Cleveland Browns. He started 52 of 67 games in 5.5 years with the Broncos from 1967-72.

Nicknamed "Tombstone," Jackson was famous for the "Head Slap" and the "Halo Spinner" which he used to subdue opposing Offensive Linemen. The late Lyle Alzado called Rich the toughest man he'd ever met, and told the story of Jackson breaking the helmet of Green Bay Packer Offensive Tackle, Bill Hayhoe, with a Head Slap.


Tim wrote such an excellent piece on Tombstone here, that I don't feel the need to elaborate.
  • AFL All-Time 2nd Team
  • 3-Time Pro Bowler (1968, 1969, 1970)
  • 3-Time 1st Team All-Pro (1968, 1969, 1970)
  • Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (1975)
  • Inaugural class of inductees into the Broncos' "Ring of Fame" (1984 along with Goose Gonsoulin, Floyd Little, and Lionel Taylor)


Eddie McCaffrey had a very good career, replete with super Bowl Rings, but Rich "Tombstone" Jackson and Lionel Taylor were both inaugural inductees to the Broncos Ring of Fame. Between the two, Taylor had the bigger effect. Had it not been for the injuries that took their toll on Tombstone, he would likely be scrutinized for a Hall of Fame pedigree. There is no question, that the Greatest Bronco to wear #87 is...

 Lionel Taylor

Lionel Taylor was an Undrafted rookie signed by the Chicago Bears out of New Mexico Highlands University in 1959. He played 8 games with the NFL Bears before moving to the Denver Broncos of the AFL in 1960. Relegated to Special Teams, he became unhappy with his role in Chicago and joined the expansion Denver Broncos of the fledgling American Football League in 1960. Lionel began as the 4th string receiver on the roster. He used to play catch with Frank Tripucka, who was a Broncos Assistant Coach at the time. The quarterbacks on the roster in Training Camp were sorely lacking in talent, so Tripucka was badgered into the starting job. Frank told the Denver staff that Taylor could catch anything thrown his way, so Lionel was promoted to the starting spot at Split End. 

Well Taylor took off and produced immediate results. He had 92 receptions, which led the AFL. He also had career highs of 1,235 yards, 12 touchdowns and a career long 80 yard reception as well. In Week 11 against Buffalo, Taylor had a career high 199 yards receiving. All that did was get him selected to his first All-Pro team for his efforts. As an encore, Lionel made the 1961 season a memorable one. He became the 1st player in the history of Pro Football to have 100 receptions in one season. He produced a 2nd 1000+ yard season (1,176), 4 touchdowns and was named to his 2nd of four All Pro squads. 

For the first 6 years of existence of the AFL, one man led the league in receptions each year: Lionel Taylor.

If Floyd Little was the only running option for the Broncos, Lionel Taylor was the only option in the passing game. Taylor was often covered by two or more defenders on each passing down. He caught his 100 balls in a 14 game season which also included the 10 yard chuck rule, which makes his accomplishment more meaningful in comparison to the present day rules that favor Receivers. Despite that, he led the AFL in receptions in five of his first six seasons, and averaged over 84 yards per reception over that span.
 
Compared to the rest of Pro Football at the time, Taylor was on his own level. Between 1960 and 1965, only 10 players caught more than 300 passes. Only 2 caught more than 400. Art Powell recorded 405 receptions, 22 more than the next player, and 60 more than the great Raymond Berry, but Lionel Taylor eclipsed them all, catching a preposterous 508 passes, a full 103 more than Powell. Those 508 receptions during that 6 season span, were a record that stood for 30 years until Sterling Sharpe notched 540 receptions between 1989 and 1994. Even though Taylor's record was broken by Sharpe, the fact that Taylor was playing in 14, not 16 game seasons in the 1960s, meant that he actually played in 14 fewer games over his 6 seasons, yet only recorded 32 fewer receptions. Here is another fact. It wasn't until Anquan Boldin hit 300 receptions in just 47 games in 2006 that Taylor's pace to 300 catches was bested. That's a record that stood for more than 40 years. 
 
Lionel was an intelligent and crafty player who wasn't blessed with great speed. He often faked defenders out of position with a wide variety of moves. He also had incredible hands and it seemed like he caught every ball that came his way. 

He had a saying about hearing footsteps when going across the middle to catch a pass,

"If you catch the ball, it only hurts half as much when you get hit." 

His 1965 Topps Football card had this to say on the back: 

"Third in the league last year in pass receptions, Lionel has perhaps the finest hands in football. No catch is considered impossible for this star. He has excellent leadership qualities and is highly respected both as a player and by many teammates and opponents."

Lionel was the Broncos’ MVP 3 times (1963, 1964, and 1965).He played 96 games in 7 seasons as a Split End for the Broncos from 1960-66. He caught 543 passes for 6,872 yards, a 12.7 average, 44 touchdowns and rushed 4 times for 20 yards. He Fumbled 7 times and was 0 for 6 with 2 interceptions as a Passer.


League Achievements

  • 4-Time 1st Team All-Pro (1960, 1961, 1962, 1965) 
  • First Player to Catch 100 Passes (1961) 
  • AFL's all-time reception leader (567)
  • A member of the AFL Hall of Fame
  • Denver Broncos Ring of Fame (Inaugural member)
  • Colorado Sports Hall Of Fame
  • New Mexico Highlands Hall Of Fame
Team Achievements

  • 24-100 yard Games
  • 4 Seasons with 1,000+ yards receiving 
  • 2nd Most 100 100yard Games in a Season (7)
  • 1st (Tie) Most consecutive 100 yard Games (3)
  • 6-Time Team leader in Receptions (1960-65)
  • 3-Time Team leader in scoring (1960,1963-64)
  • 3rd Most Career Receptions (543)
  • 3rd Most Career Receiving Yards (6,872)
  • 4th (Tie) Most Touchdown Receptions, Career (44)
  • 1st (Tie) Most Consecutive Games with a Touchdown Catch (6)
  • 3rd Most Consecutive Games with a Reception (62)
 
After 7 seasons with the Broncos, Lionel joined the Houston Oilers in 1967. He played in just 8 games and caught 18 balls for 233 yards and a scored once. Lionel's last year in the Pros was in 1968. He appeared in 9 games and caught a career low 6 passes for 90 yards without scoring. He retired after that season. From 1970-1976, Lionel Taylor was a wide receiver coach in Pittsburgh under Chuck Noll. During that time he helped mold two future Hall of Fame receivers named Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Swann credited Taylor for much of his success. After Taylor left the Steelers, he went on to be a coach for the Los Angeles Rams and eventually rose to the position of Offensive Coordinator, but he never got his shot as a Head Coach. Still, he paved the way for other African-Americans such as Tony Dungy and Leslie Frazier to get a shot at an NFL Head Coaching gig. In spite of all that, he still isn't in the Pro Football all of Fame. If being the first player ever with 100 catches in a season along with records that stood for 30 to 40 years isn't having an impact on the league, then the Hall of Fame is a farce for the omission of Lionel Taylor.


MHR gives a Mile High Salute to Lionel Taylor as the Greatest Bronco to wear #87.


Go Broncos!


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