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NFL sack leaders: New Information tells us more about career stats

Andrew Buller-Russ

If you’re a football fan who likes to look at stats, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Pro Football Reference as you’re browsing the web. What they are known for is their incredible database of NFL statistics.

Amazingly, sacks weren’t counted as an official stat by the NFL prior to 1982. Now, thanks to PFR’s hours of research, we have a much greater idea of accurate sack numbers dating back to 1960.

Keep in mind, none of what you read below are recognized as “official” stats. Although, the NFL should consider removing the unofficial tags from the data unless someone has a way to disprove it. So, what can be taken from all this “new information”? 

Al Baker should hold the sack record for an individual season

nfl stats: al baker, single-season sack leader
Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

Many can still remember when Brett Favre voluntarily went to the ground for Michael Strahan to achieve sack 22.5 of the 2001 season. It was a monumental moment that gave Strahan the all-time record for most sacks in an individual season.

Now, thanks to the research done by Pro Football Reference, we’re learning Al Baker of the Detroit Lions actually tallied 23 sacks in his rookie year of 1978. While this isn’t recognized as an official statistic, Baker should be the one who holds the single-season sack record. Not to take anything away from Strahan, but apparently, Baker had more.

During the 2021 season, Pittsburgh Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt tied Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks despite having played just 15 games.

Deacon Jones vaults to No. 3 all-time

all-time nfl sack leaders, deacon jones
Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at the official leaders for most career sacks, the name Deacon Jones is nowhere to be found. A Hall-of-Fame defensive end, Jones had three different seasons racking up 21.5 or more sacks. Previously, it was believed J.J. Watt held the record with two separate seasons of 20-plus sacks.

Jones, the long-time member of the Los Angeles Rams, now sits at No. 3 on the unofficial career sack leader list with 173.5. The Gold Jacket is awesome, but it would have been even more special for Jones to know he was the all-time sack leader by a long shot at the time of his retirement.

A former teammate of Deacon’s is another Hall-of-Fame Rams legend, Jack Youngblood. He had previously been credited with just 24 sacks. Now? Youngblood ranks sixth all-time with 151.5. 

Alan Page holds most sacks all-time among defensive tackles

all-time nfl sack leaders: alan page
Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

Alan Page is referred to as one of the greatest defensive tackles in football history, his inclusion into the Hall-of-Fame helps reflect that. While we always knew he was a terror for opposing lines, we didn’t know the level of an impact Page had on the game. 

Now, we learned Page’s 148.5 career sacks outrank any other DT at No. 8 on the unofficial sack list. Behind Page is another former Minnesota Viking, John Randle with 137.5 sacks, good for a 14th-place tie.

Jim Marshall, another member of the vaunted Purple People Eaters defense of Page’s era, now shows 130.5 sacks, tied for 22nd most all-time. Since we’re here, Carl Eller’s 133.5 sacks rank 18th. 

What does all of this mean? Well, the Vikings had possibly the greatest defensive line of all time in the 1970s when it comes to bringing down quarterbacks. It also means Aaron Donald has a new set target. Currently, the game’s best defensive tackle has 85.5 sacks. In other words, Donald has a long way to go to catch up to Page.

Derrick Thomas’ seven sacks in a game still unmatched

kansas city chiefs' derrick thomas, most sacks in single nfl game
Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that didn’t change with Pro Football Reference’s new information is Derrick Thomas’ seven sacks in a game is still a record. Nobody else has been able to even get 6.5. Thomas even had another game with six sacks. Simply put, when Thomas was at his best, nobody could stop him.

Bruce Smith remains all-time sack leader

nfl all-time sack leaders: bruce smith
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one person who’s been relaxed the whole time, smoking a celebratory cigar, it’s Bruce Smith. Nobody can touch the 200 career sacks Smith has. He’s still on top of the career sack leaders list, with Reggie White just two sacks behind him. 

NFL all-time sack leaders

  1. Bruce Smith – 200
  2. Reggie White – 198
  3. Deacon Jones – 173.5
  4. Kevin Greene – 160
  5. Julius Peppers – 159.5
  6. Jack Youngblood – 151.5
  7. Chris Doleman – 150.5
  8. Alan Page – 148.5
  9. Lawrence Taylor – 142
  10. Michael Strahan – 141.5

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