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Newly-released data upends NFL (and Chiefs) all-time sack records

Thanks to decades of research, pre-1982 information about sacks is now coming to light.

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

This week, the football statistics site Pro Football Reference announced that data about sacks (which has only been an official NFL statistic since 1982) had been expanded. Thanks to decades of research, sack statistics from 1960 through 1981 have now been included in their database.

As a result, many pass rushers who played prior to 1982 can now receive proper credit for their accumulated sacks. Foremost among these is Deacon Jones, who played through 1974. PFR has now credited him with 173.5 sacks during his 11-year career — most of it with the Los Angeles Rams. That moves him into third place on the (unofficial) all-time list behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas is now 25th on the all-time list.

Another player who is finally getting the credit they deserve is Al (Bubba) Baker, whom PFR now credits with 131 sacks over a 13-year career that began with the Detroit Lions in 1978. In that rookie season, Baker notched 23 sacks — which now stands as the (unofficial) all-time single-season record ahead of Michael Strahan’s 22.5 sacks in 2001 and four other players (including then-Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston) who have recorded 22-sack seasons.

Since so many of its greatest defensive players had careers ending before 1982, this change also drastically alters the Chiefs’ all-time list of pass rushers. A total of five Kansas City defensive stars who played in their first two Super Bowl appearances are now among the team’s top-20 sack producers: Buck Buchanan (now sixth), Jerry Mays (seventh), Aaron Brown (ninth), Bobby Bell (13th) and Curley Culp (16th). And another of the team’s greatest pass rushers — Art Still — moves from seventh to fifth.

This also represents bad news for several other Kansas City pass rushers who were displaced by these changes. Eric Hicks, Jared Allen and Chris Jones all fell from the top 10, while Dan Williams, Allen Bailey and four other Chiefs (including Donnie Edwards) dropped out of the top 20.

Here’s the current (unofficial) list of all Chiefs players with at least 10 career sacks. Official ranks and sack totals (that is, including data only from 1982 to now) are in parentheses.

Chiefs All-Time Sack Leaders

Rnk Player Sacks
1
(1)
Derrick Thomas
(1989-1999)
126.5
(126.5)
2
(2)
Tamba Hali
(2006-2017)
89.5
(89.5)
3
(3)
Neil Smith
(1988-1996)
85.5
(85.5)
4
(4)
Justin Houston
(2011-2018)
78.5
(78.5)
5
(7)
Art Still
(1978-1987)
74
(42.5)
6
(--)
Buck Buchanan
(1963-1975)
70.5
(0)
7
(--)
Jerry Mays
(1961-1970)
65.5
(0)
8
(9)
Mike Bell
(1979-1991)
52
(40)
9
(--)
Aaron Brown
(1966-1972)
51
(0)
10
(5)
Eric Hicks
(1998-2006)
44.5
(44.5)
11
(6)
Jared Allen
(2004-2007)
43
(43)
12
(8)
Chris Jones
(2016-2020)
40.5
(40.5)
13
(--)
Bobby Bell
(1963-1974)
40
(0)
13
(9)
Bill Maas
(1984-1992)
40
(40)
15
(--)
Wilbur Young
(1971-1977)
39
(0)
16
(--)
Curley Culp
(1968-1974)
37
(0)
17
(--)
Mel Branch
(1960-1965)
34
(0)
18
(11)
Dee Ford
(2014-2018)
30.5
(30.5)
19
(12)
Dan Saleaumua
(1989-1996)
28
(28)
20
(13)
Derrick Johnson
(2005-2017)
27.5
(27.5)
20
(13)
John Browning
(1996-2005)
27.5
(27.5)
22
(--)
Marvin Upshaw
(1970-1975)
25
(0)
23
(32)
Whitney Paul
(1976-1986)
24
(1.5)
24
(15)
Dan Williams
(1997-2000)
23
(23)
25
(30)
Ken Kremer
(1979-1984)
21.5
(5.5)
26
(16)
Allen Bailey
(2011-2018)
19.5
(19.5)
27
(--)
Jim Lynch
(1967-1977)
18
(0)
28
(31)
Tom Howard
(1977-1983)
17.5
(4)
29
(--)
E.J. Holub
(1961-1970)
17
(0)
30
(17)
Donnie Edwards
(1996-2008)
16.5
(16.5)
30
(17)
Leonard Griffin
(1986-1993)
16.5
(16.5)
30
(17)
Duane Clemons
(2000-2002)
16.5
(16.5)
33
(--)
Paul Rochester
(1960-1963)
16
(0)
34
(20)
Chris Martin
(1988-1992)
15
(15)
34
(--)
Smokey Stover
(1960-1966)
15
(0)
36
(21)
Joe Phillips
(1992-1997)
14
(14)
36
(29)
Dave Lindstrom
(1978-1985)
14
(7.5)
36
(21)
Frank Clark
(2019-2020)
14
(14)
36
(21)
Wallace Gilberry
(2008-2011)
14
(14)
40
(33)
Don Parrish
(1978-1982)
13.5
(1)
40
(24)
Darren Mickell
(1992-1995)
13.5
(13.5)
42
(25)
Dontari Poe
(2012-2016)
13
(13)
43
(26)
Marvcus Patton
(1999-2002)
12.5
(12.5)
43
(26)
Anthony Davis
(1994-1998)
12.5
(12.5)
45
(--)
Paul Miller
(1960-1961)
10
(0)
45
(28)
Leslie O'Neal
(1998-1999)
10
(10)

According to PFR, the pre-1982 sack data has been collected through decades of research by John Turney and Nick Webster.

Turney and Webster, stalwart members of the Pro Football Researchers Association, have been compiling these numbers for nearly 30 years. To read a bit about their work and methods, we would recommend checking out these articles from the Hartford Courant, New York Times and ESPN’s old Page 2. The important things to know are that these numbers are based upon review of official play-by-plays, watching game film, photographs and coaches’ stats.

PFR says that data from the time of the 1970 AFL-NFL merger is essentially complete — but information from before then is proving more challenging to obtain.

It’s remarkable how thorough the research is, given the many obstacles. 99% of sacks from the 1970 merger to 1981 are accounted for. From 1966 to 1969, it’s closer to 95% (both AFL and NFL). 1961-64 is about 80% coverage. About two-thirds of sacks in 1960 are accounted for.

So the work will continue — and more of the game’s greatest defensive players will (finally) get the credit they deserve.