On Monday, in the midst of the slowest portion of the NFL offseason, profootballreference.com quietly released the results of their lengthy research into sack data before 1982, the year sacks became an official NFL statistic. It’s unlikely that the NFL will adopt this data, stretching back to 1960, as official; however, it does lend some statistical support for the dominance of pass-rushing stars of the 1960s and 1970s.
Of particular interest in these parts: Minnesota Vikings players now hold down approximately one-quarter of the top 25 spots (six, to be exact) on the NFL’s “unofficial” all-time sack leaderboard dating back to 1960. Three of the six are members of the Vikings’ legendary Purple People Eaters defense. Four Vikings on the list – Chris Doleman, Alan Page, John Randle, and Carl Eller – are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are joined in the new-look top 25 by Jared Allen and… Jim Marshall.
Doleman’s sack total remains unchanged at 150.5 since his career began in 1985. Still, he slipped from fifth to seventh on the official leaderboard, leap-frogged by additional stats for Deacon Jones (now in third place with 173.5 sacks) and Jack Youngblood, who sneaked ahead of Doleman into sixth place with 151.5. Page now follows Doleman in eighth place all-time with 148.5 sacks, further quantifying his greatness as possibly the best pass-rushing defensive tackle ever – since, you know, he has the most sacks by a defensive tackle.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to throw in the caveat on sacks not being a perfect metric. It has its flaws beyond the fact that, until now, it’s only included useful data back to 1982. Sacks are great, no doubt. Sacks make headlines, get players paid, get listed on Hall of Fame and All-Pro resumés, and change games. However, the underappreciated quarterback pressures and quarterback hits disrupt plays and play-calling just as much without the loss of yardage. Alas, nobody seems to care much about pressures and hits, nor is there a top 25 for such things. And by “nobody,” we mean “the general football-consuming population.” Football people realize the value of those metrics.
Having said that, please give the Honorable Justice Page his due once again. He deserves all the kudos. Page belongs on any true Vikings Mount Rushmore and is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, if you’re into that kind of debate.
Speaking of dominant defensive tackles, Randle is the next Vikings Hall of Famer on the list. He’s officially tied with Richard Dent in 10th place with 137.5 career sacks. But he slips to 14th on the updated leaderboard, having been leapfrogged by the aforementioned Jones, Youngblood, and Page as well as some guy named Lawrence Taylor, who began his career in 1981 and is now credited with 142.0 career sacks, good for ninth place.
Next on the countdown is Allen, now tied for 16th place with Rickey Jackson at 136.0 career sacks. The calf-roping, mullet-loving curling aficionado didn’t get his call to the Hall of Fame in his first go-round, but he’ll get there eventually. I made the case for him in this space back in February, and it’s based largely on his sack total.
Eller is the fifth Vikings great on the list, just behind Allen and now credited with 133.5 sacks, tied with John Abraham for 18th place all-time. “Moose” played his entire career, from 1964 to 1979, before sacks were officially counted. It was thought that Eller had 130.0 unofficial sacks before the PFR.com announcement. The inability of voters to point to his gaudy career sack totals might have contributed to the fact he had to wait 25 years from when he was first eligible to be enshrined.
And then there’s Marshall. For decades, Vikings fans have clamored for Marshall to be given his due with a call to the Hall. Now, with this new data unearthed, there could be a renewed effort to get him in. Like it or not, defensive ends and edge rushers make their name with sacks. Everyone knows Marshall was an all-time ironman, but the new data showing that he had 130.5 career sacks from 1960-1979 and is tied for 22nd place all-time with Coy Bacon might open the minds of some voters considering senior candidates for the Hall.
Six Vikings in the top 25. That’s pretty impressive. For perspective, active greats such Von Miller (106.0 sacks), J.J. Watt (101.0), and Aaron Donald (85.5) still have a long way to go to reach the rarified air these former Vikings have achieved. In terms of producing pass-rushing greats, it’s difficult to make a case for another franchise being superior.
Just a little something for Vikings fans to celebrate in the dregs of the offseason before the start of training camp.