PFR Adds Sack Data Back to 1960

Los Angeles Rams DE Deacon Jones
Los Angeles Rams DE Deacon Jones
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Officially, the NFL has recorded sack data for defensive players since 1982. Unofficially, of course, defenders have been putting quarterbacks on the ground for a lot longer than that. With the help of John Turney and Nick Webster of the Pro Football Research Association, Pro Football Reference today added more than two decades of sack data, going back to 1960. Some highlights they have found:

  • Bruce Smith and Reggie White still rank one-two in career sacks, but former Rams star Deacon Jones moves into third place. Jones led the league in sacks five times in six seasons in the late 1960s; the other year, he was third.
  • Jones, obviously, is the leader in pre-1981 sacks with 173.5. He is followed in the top five by Alan Page, Carl Eller, Coy Bacon, and Jim Marshall. Page, Eller, and Marshall played together in Minnesota's Purple People Eaters, one of the great defensive lines (and nicknames) in NFL history. Bacon made three Pro Bowls over stints with the Rams, Chargers, Bengals, and Washington; he led the NFL with 21.5 sacks (in 14 games!) in 1976.
  • Al Baker was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1978 with the Detroit Lions, and now it's easy to explain why: he had 23.0 sacks that season, "passing" Michael Strahan's 22.5 sacks in 2001 for the "new" single-season record.


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42 comments, Last at 22 Jul 2021, 6:58pm

1 Very cool to see. Always…

Very cool to see. Always wanted to have Deacons numbers in easier to compare context. Nice to get more context for some of the other historically great players too. I never respected Strahan's record as much as I probably should have seeing the gift sack from Favre so it makes me a bit happy to see Al Baker at the top of that single season list, even if it's unofficial. I like that they have the official and unofficial lists side by side on the site too.


Packers wise Ezra Johnson did not fair as well as some Packers fans might have thought, though 17.5 sacks in 1978 was cool still doesn't get Tim Harris' single season 19.5 record in 89 though. Nice to see Willie Davis at the top of the team career list too. Yeah I liked Matthews, but also felt he was over rated and a penalty waiting to happen with how high hit people, so again, little bit of joy from seeing him bumped down.

2 Nice!

Good some more updates to the database

4 Vikings defense from the…

Vikings defense from the late 60s to '76 or so was terrific, but from '69-'71 it was ridiculous. Shame they were so hamstrung at qb. Kapp had some effectiveness at times, but fundamentally threw the ball poorly. By the time they Tarkenton came back, they were still very good on defense, but they weren't overwhelming like they were those 3 years.

Coy Bacon was very underappreciated.

22 I think Coy Bacon...

...was considered, much like Mark Gastineau, to be a pass rush only player on defense who didn't really play the run well.  Bacon played almost entirely before I started following pro football, but I have a copies of both the 1977 and 1978 Complete Handbook of Pro Football and they indicate Bacon was that kind of player.

The above isn't meant to say Bacon wasn't a productive player and really good pass rusher in his peak years though.  He actually played WITH Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and much of the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome from 1968-1972, regularly starting the last four of those years.  (He also played with Jones on the 1973 San Diego Chargers; Jones joined the Chargers one season earlier.)

5 In my role as a lazy person,…

In my role as a lazy person, telling others what to do, we need an adjusted sack rate for pass rushers. During the deadball 70s the pass attempts were down, but then again, if a pass rusher is allowed to head slap, the pass blocker much more restricted in using his hands, and receivers can mugged all over the field, the pass rusher sure as hell ought to have a better asjusted sack rate.

6 You beat me to this exact…

You beat me to this exact comment. It makes me wonder if there's a clear way to delineate different 'eras' of football based on rule changes and play styles (and, obviously, there's also a transition period as teams adjust). The salary cap/free agency era and pre/post AFL are obvious markers, but 1978 rule changes were pretty damned significant. Not to mention that little dustup known as WW2.

9 You're both exactly right…

You're both exactly right. It's the inverse of evaluating modern quarterbacks based on their raw statistics -- every halfway decent young passer these days has raw numbers that make him look like the second coming of Joe Montana. That's why stats like most times leading league or most times in the top 10 are usually a better measure of a player's value than raw totals.

18 Except stats like that get…

Except stats like that get screwed up over time by career length changes. And not just in the "cumulative versus rate" issue - obviously as QB careers become longer, for instance, QBs, for instance, face stiffer competition. No QB's ever had competition for the Pro Bowl with a guy who entered the league when he was five before (...I think, at least). For QBs, it's really a tough problem.

Less so for other positions though, since I don't think their careers are lengthening as fast.

7 The 1976 head slap ban was…

The 1976 head slap ban was huge as well. I don't want to think about Reggie White being allowed to head slap offensive tackles. He may haved ended up with 300 sacks, and I'm not being hyperbolic. There's footage of Carl Eller clubbing Forrest Gregg so hard in the earhole that Gregg"s helmet is launched 15 feet in the air, 10 yards past Starr in the pocket, as Eller easily slides past the obviously concussed Gregg to bury Starr. Good grief, the olinemen back then had to be tough sonsabitches...

8 Deacon

Is Deacon Jones the GOAT defensive player? 

10 Still Reggie White

In reply to by jonnyblazin

for me. 

For comparison, through 14 seasons (Deacons career), White had 19 more sacks. To get closer in games played, through their age 36 season (Deacons last year), White still had 3 more sacks. 

11 Yes I generally assumed it…

Yes I generally assumed it was between Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. But I think Deacon Jones has a case as well, and now he has some statistical backing. 

Preferring White over Jones may be a case of preferring longevity over peak value. Because I'm not sure there is a better sustained peak than Jones 1964-1969. 

12 A case sure

If you're looking at only sacks through a 6 year period. Whites AV was off the charts in his. 107 from '86-'91 as opposed to Jones 84. All while a unanimous 1st team All Pro every year. Which was, in just that stretch more than Deacon would get in his career (while White got a couple more later). Wasn't so for Deacon in '64 (unanimous 2nd team though is good, shoutout Willie Davis).

Maybe Woodson, Deion can be added due to their value position. 

14 I'm not sure how you can…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

I'm not sure how you can calculate Jones' AV without including his tackle #s, which we don't have unfortunately. I'm not here to dispute the greatness of White, I'm just saying maybe a case can be made that Jones rivaled his greatness. But even with the sack numbers it is very hard to gauge Jones' greatness. 

And I'm sorry but I can't ever call Deion the greatest defender based on his tackling. Its such a fundamental aspect of defense and he was bad at it. 

Woodson is a more interesting case but I have no idea how to argue it. 

15 Tackles are almost worthless anyway

Without knowing after how many yards they were made (TFL weren't recorded until 1999 too). And prior to 1994 they're all inconsistent and unofficial anyway and aren't in the calculation. 

Tackling is the least of a CBs job. It's like caring a lot about Jones or White's coverage. Nice but ultimately not a big deal. First is coverage and that's by far the most important.

DB is just a trickier job to evaluate than DL, hence why we gravitate toward front 7 like LT, White, Jones. 

17 Still, having a CB who is a…

Still, having a CB who is a stout and aggressive tackler is quite helpful. Both in the run game and when WRs (not necessarily the man the CB is covering) makes a reception. Rod Woodson has made 100 tackles in a season at CB. If we are talking GOAT of all defensive players, there can't be any holes in someone's game. Like there is with Deion. 

How did they calculate AV of Deacon Jones if they don't have tackle stats? Because Deacon Jones' sack numbers from that peak are obviously unparalleled. I'm sorry but it seems like a completely spurious stat based on what data is available from the 1960s. 

20 That goes for any position

And same could be said of coverage but that's not what we should ultimately care about from edge rushers (unless it's a tie breaker). 

And Rod would become a S! The last line of defense. But hopefully no one was judging him by tackles while at CB. 

That's like saying Peyton and Brady can't be a GOAT because they can't run. Big hole in their game! But it doesn't matter because that's not the most important thing...for their position. For a RB? Yeah, they better be good at it. 

I hyperlinked the calculation but like I said 64 he wasn't a 1st team All Pro and then there are other small things like FR (and yards and TD) and INT that White has him in. And generally playing more for a better team also impacts it. Also FF which weren't record in Jones time. 

26 Being able to tackle as a CB…

Being able to tackle as a CB is much more important than you are suggesting. It is significantly more important than QB speed, as well as coverage ability from an edge rusher (unless it is a 3-4 OLB, in which case it is pretty important). 

The other stats you are mentioning are just a joke if you think they are meaningful, especially given White played in 41 more games:

Jones: 2 
White: 3

Jones: 15
White: 20

Are you seriously arguing that and handful of fumble recoveries make White better on FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS, where the concept of fumble luck was invented? 

28 Geez man

If it was as important as you're suggesting, Deion wouldn't be the consensus best CB, a 1st ballot HOFr, an unanimous 1998 1st team All Pro selection with 25 tackles. So yeah he can technically tackle, not his strong suite but who cares. You're primary job as a CB is to not allow a catch in the first place. '09 Revis isn't marveled at because of the 3rd most tackles in a season for his career. And no one is going to claim '07 Revis was a top 5 season of his because he could tackle. It's all about before the reception and preventing any of your teammates from having to try and tackle down an athletic grown man in the first place. If Deion isn't in the discussion you're hyper focusing on the complete wrong thing. Borderline irrational to not want him at the most important defensive position. 

And like I said, since you didn't want to read the formula, I gave further help. And we were talking about primes not total career. White didn't have 41 more games in their (arbitrary) best 6 year stretch. Only 8. Again, I was just trying to explain why his AV was higher. Recovering fumbles for multiple yards and a TD and getting interceptions is valuable, regardless if it's repeatable. Maybe these comments from others will help...about Deacons help.

29 When did I ever say I wouldn…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

When did I ever say I wouldn't want Deion at the most important defensive position? You are making things up now. Deion is the greatest cover corner in the history of the game IMO. But to say the greatest defensive player in the history of the game tackles like this ( is an insult to the game of football itself.  

I read the AV formula and I think it is a joke to think that it can parse slight differences between roughly equal players. Here is what it's inventor said: "AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player."

Again, if you think having 3 vs 2 career INTs over 15 years is an indication that Reggie White was better than Deacon Jones, I can't help you. 

30 Because you're hyperfixated on 1 thing

Insult to the game itself is such a...pretentious hyperbole. Lol like it's a living thing. Like the best cover CB is more valuable than a bad one that can tackle. Like one of the comments said on the video "you also have to catch the ball the be tackled, and when you're covered by deion sanders, you aint catching"

You got the quote from the top, that's good. Good thing it wasn't 14 vs 16, and rather 84 vs 107. But since you keep wanting to bring it back to career, for some odd reason, it's 230 for White in 232 games and 134 for Deacon in 191 games. Again, hyperfixating on one portion of the explanation. One (or small portions of it, and missing the sum). Look at the football perspective link below for further explanation on why White (AND Sanders) were higher than Deacon. Maybe I'm not explaining it well. 

33 "Like the best cover CB is…

"Like the best cover CB is more valuable than a bad one that can tackle"

Why do you insist on misrepresenting what I am saying? You are arguing in bad faith. The fact that you are relying on Youtube comments to support your argument shows how weak it is. WRs did, in fact, make receptions with Deion in coverage. And Deion should have been putting himself in position to make tackles on run plays, and when other WRs/TEs/RBs caught the ball, but he rarely did. 

AV is a worthless stat. Any stat that ranks Matt Ryan ahead of Lawrence Taylor is garbage. Any stat that ranks Eli Manning ahead of Joe Montana is garbage. Any stat that ranks Joe Flacco ahead of Marshal Yanda is garbage. Complete and utter garbage. Need I go on?  

36 Because you did it first

Relying on YouTube comments? Dude I literally said it before hand in slightly different words and you still tried to link to a potato broadcast video.

Of course some recievers made catches. And of course he did actually tackle! He did multiple times each season!

AV is worthless because Matt Ryan has played in the NFL while Lawrence hasn't? Dude you are going so off the rails to try and prove a pointless point. Lol. You think a GUARD is more responsible than an even  average QB (actually looking at it, it's only slightly too lol and Yanda has the higher WEIGHTED AV actually lol)? Well you are dismissing Deion  because he didn't get a 100 tackles like Woodson did (only once and exactly on the dot). All while arguing for a guy you probably cognizantly didnt watch, in his prime at least. Might be stuck in the past lol 

Whatever, Deions got a case even with his poor tackling. Whites got a case even with his unrepeatable impact plays. And even Deacon. Depends on what you want and how you look at it. I like White. But I see a case for Deion because he played a high impact position with the most important defensive ability and is widely regarded even with his flaws.

13 Funny you should ask that,…

In reply to by jonnyblazin

Funny you should ask that, because Brian Frye just finished up his top 1000 player list on Football Perspective this past week. Deacon was pretty high, but spoilers, wasn't the top defensive player. He was 27th overall, 12th best defensive player, and 3rd best DE behind White and Smith.

41 Fun list. Ed over Ray is a mistake

Fun list to read.  Well-written.

Ed over Ray is a mistake.  But it's a mistake I've seen with increasing frequency lately.  My guess is that that Ray hung on so long as an elder statesman – solid, but not actually great anymore – that it colors the way people remember him.  What I think of as the Brett Favre Effect.  People remember Ray's speed being ordinary and him impacting the game with smarts & positioning & leadership; they can't picture 1999-2003 when he had the smarts & positioning & leadership and also his speed was terrifying.

Also Ray's peak was before the rise of FO and PFF, "analytics" et al. His last DPOY season was before Reed's first All-Pro season – before Reed's prime.  May people think Peak Ed was better than Peak Ray, because of the timing of it all.  But it isn't true.

Which is not to detract from Reed's greatness, at all.

42 Ok so I admit to being…

Ok so I admit to being partially in the camp of Ed over Ray, but mostly because of two arguments.

1) Ed had a bigger impact on the passing game than Ray(this is actually wild speculation because I don't think anyone can quantify to what degree a safety vs a linebacker has in pass coverage as there are too many ripple effects to disentangle.

2) There were about 2-4 other linebackers who played vaguely around the same time as Ray where its not clear how much of a drop off you are going to suffer having them in place of Ray. Ray was probably the best of that group, but just how big a dropoff will you experience with Zach Thomas, Urlacher, Kuechly, Willis and others in his place. Versus Ed Reed feeling like he truly was one of a kind. A special roving menace. Manning used to opine how Ed could look completely out of the play but because he was a savant, he knew where that damn ball was going so he intentionally played possum and then had this elite speed to spring the trap.

23 There were seasons...

In reply to by jonnyblazin

when Deacon Jones was probably not the best defensive lineman on his own team!  Keep in mind Merlin Olsen played with the Rams from 1962 to 1976, was selected to the Pro Bowl every one of those years except 1976 and was either 1st or 2nd team All-Pro ten times (1st team five times, 2nd team five times).  I believe Jones and Olsen were teammates from 1962 to 1971.

On a related note, not only is it hard to compare defensive players (or any players) across eras, it is also hard to compare them without accounting for the context of their teams.  Jones and Olsen benefited significantly from playing with each other, and the same can be said of their contemporaries in the Twin Cities, the Purple People Eaters (Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall).  Though both Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor had some excellent teammates themselves (guys like Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, and Sean Jones in White's case and Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall, and Jim Burt in Taylor's case), those guys generally weren't at the same level as Deacon Jones' defensive teammates, especially on the same unit.

34 As an Eagles fan, I'd say...

...maybe, maybe not.  Reggie White made everyone around him, especially on the defensive line, A LOT better.  Brown was a very good player who was great at his best, but I'm not sure he was a genuinely great player, or perhaps more accurately would have been great enough for long enough to make the PFHOF.

One thing that was kind of ironic about Reggie White is that, at least during his Eagles career, his sack numbers tended to decrease as the players around him got better, at least in part because those other players would start getting sacks that White previously was able to get.

25 Theres no clear consensus on…

In reply to by jonnyblazin

Theres no clear consensus on the GOAT defender. Some names I've heard at various times in no particular order

Ronnie Lott, Deacon Jones, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkis, Deion Sanders. 

In addition to that group, I think Alan Page deserves some mentions and Aaron Donald may be deserving of that too at some point.

Some other things to consider. Its much much harder to be a great defensive back than the other positions and this is borne out in multiple ways. 1) DB metrics are so much more volatile and the game is so much harder to on defensive backs. So in that respect, perhaps Deion is the goat although it was much easier to be a defensive back in Deion's era than today. Perhaps that suggests someone like Revis, YES REVIS, might be the best defender ever?


27 Revis had a super peak but I…

Revis had a super peak but I don't think was dominant for long enough to enter GOAT discussion.

And as I discussed earlier, defensive coaches would be rolling over in their grave if Deion was considered GOAT defender. The best cover corner, yes, but his tackling was so bad that it should remove him from the conversation. Solid tackling is valuable from a CB, both on run plays and on completed passes, and he just was not good at it at all. Disqualifying.  

I would favor Rod Woodson as the best DB, he was 5x all-pro CB and then a great safety in the back half of his career. 

Dick Butkus is a very famous defender, but I'd say Ray Lewis probably deserves the GOAT status for ILB. Lewis had a dominant peak but also a great 2nd half of his career where his instincts and intelligence carried him.  

31 If Deion were as bad at…

If Deion were as bad at tackling as you are suggesting, then he might be borderline unplayable in today's NFL, given how much NFL passing games get out of short throws and YAC.

My point about Revis is the game is just so hard on cornerbacks that his super peak might just be as good as it gets for a cb in today's game. That it's too hard to remain awesome for more than 3-4 seasons as a DB.

16 My dad always said that Al …

My dad always said that Al "Bubba" Baker was the best defensive player you've never heard of.  His updated PFR page backs that up:

Looks like he had a pretty impressive peak (that was mostly pre-1982 unfortunately for him), then excellent longevity after that.  Contributed 5.5 sacks as a 32 year old backup on that impressive '88 Vikings D-line, and  then 7.5 sacks as a 33 year old starter for a very good, but forgotten, '89 Browns defense.  Now goes up to 21st on the all time sack list. 

Yes, I know sack totals are not the end-all, be-all, but I doubt we're ever going to get # of pressures for the old-time players.

38 Bubba Baker was a bad man

I watched a lot of football in those days, and Bubba Baker was a rough dude.  In college he gave himself a brand -- not a tattoo, not a marketing brand -- a brand -- as in what ranchers do to cattle -- by heating up a coat hanger that he had shaped into a "BB".  Then pressing the red-hot metal into his biceps to make a permanent mark.  His frat brothers followed suit, to the confusion of Bubba -- none of the others had the initials BB.

39 Tombstone Jackson

And so ends the legend of Tombstone Jackson. 

His pressures and passed defended likely still qualify him as a truly dominant D lineman -- NFL films provides pretty good evidence -- the myth that he was an overlooked Deacon Jones seems exploded (though, as pointed out above, Jones benefited from extraordinarily talented teammates - that said, Deacon Jones is the man).

Still, when I see the NFL Films highlights on YouTube -- holy crap.



40 "And so ends the legend of…

In reply to by BroncosGuyAgain

"And so ends the legend of Tombstone Jackson."

How so? I thought he was a very short high peak kind of guy (like 3 or 4 seasons), that wouldn't register on this list. Right? It was before my time, so I might not know the legend correctly.