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Research re-writes the Broncos’ career sacks leaderboard

Thanks to two researchers, stats site Pro Football Reference is shedding light on pre-1982 sack masters.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Yesterday, the football statistics website Pro Football Reference announced the results of several decades of work by football historians John Turney and Nick Webster. These gentlemen, by poring over old game film, coaches’ stats, and other resources have managed to put together a surprisingly comprehensive glimpse into sacks in the NFL & AFL between 1960 and 1981.

Why those dates?

Sacks first became an officially tracked stat in the NFL in the leadup to the 1982 season, leaving an inevitable void occupying the years before that. And it appears that the American Football League’s founding in 1960 makes for a nice opening bookend for this research. Though I’m certain Turney & Webster have researched even earlier seasons, at some point all of that data fades off into the mystery of less data-driven decades than our own.

I’m personally ecstatic for this news, as its something I’ve wished for ever since I got interested in NFL history & statistics. I’ve always wondered how sack stats for those early seasons of the modern NFL would rewrite the records books- at least the unofficial ones. And now we know.

Granted, the official record books likely will not change. These stats will likely remain forever unofficial. But it’s incredibly interesting to know that Michael Strahan’s NFL-record 22.5 sacks in the 2001 NFL season may never have been the record at all. Instead, the single-season sack crown arguably belongs to Al Baker and his 23-sack 1978 campaign as a member of the Detroit Lions.

This could have significant repercussions, including in places like the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For example: Al Baker, who is severely under-represented officially at just 65.5 career sacks, ranks just 108th on the all-time sack leaderboard... officially. But on a leaderboard adjusted with this new data, he surges all the way to 21st place and is the 4th highest eligible player on the sacks leaderboard who’s not already in the Hall. And 2 of the 3 above him have only been eligible for election to the Hall for a year or two. This news could make his case for the Hall, especially considering his unofficial single-season sack record, significantly stronger than it was before.

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

So what does this new data mean for the Denver Broncos?

It won’t surprise you that it changes nothing at the top of the franchise career sacks leaderboard. Von Miller already was, and remains, the greatest pass rusher to ever don the Orange & Blue. But it does shake things up a little for him in the greater context of the history of NFL pass rushers, while also reshuffling the Broncos’ franchise leaderboard beneath him.

The notable bit for Miller is that Deacon Jones moves him down to being the 5th fastest player in NFL history to hit 100 career sacks. Von did it in 118 games, or 7.38 16-game seasons of play. Jones managed to do it in approximately 95 games, the equivalent of 5.94 16-game seasons.

As mentioned, Miller reigns supreme within the Broncos’ franchise leaderboard at 106.0 sacks. Simon Fletcher (97.5) and Karl Mecklenburg (79.0) also retain their 2nd & 3rd place spots. But Barney Chavous (career Bronco, 1973-1985) unofficially leaps into 4th place with 75.0 career sacks.

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Likewise, 30.0 additional sacks from the first two years of Rulon Jones’s career (career Bronco, 1980-1988) move him up into 5th place. Lyle Alzado (1971-1978) notched 64.5 sacks for Denver to edge out Trevor Pryce for 6th place. Pryce (64.0) and Elvis Dumervil (63.5) maintain top 10 spots, rounding out the “modern” players. Paul Smith (1968-1978) with 55.5 sacks, and Rich “Tombstone” Jackson (1967-1972) with 43.0 get a lift to round out the Broncos’ new, unofficial, top 10 career sack leaders.

All the “new” additions to the list move the Broncos’ other active sack artist, Bradley Chubb (20.5 sacks), down 10 spots to 26th overall. But Chubb can get plenty of traction with a great 2021 season- notching his second double-digit sack season will move him right back up to the #16 spot.

Poll

Who’s your favorite sackmaster in the Broncos’ new top 5?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Von Miller
    (837 votes)
  • 12%
    Simon Fletcher
    (202 votes)
  • 25%
    Karl Mecklenburg
    (407 votes)
  • 3%
    Barney Chavous
    (56 votes)
  • 7%
    Rulon Jones
    (114 votes)
1616 votes total Vote Now