General

The NFL's All-Time Sack Leader

Most likely, one of the NLF’s greatest defensive players, David “Deacon” Jones, came up with the word “sack” as a description of tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. The NFL started to count these as an official statistic in 1982. That means a host of players from earlier years have sack records that will never be acknowledged.

The NFL’s official description of a sack is this:

When the quarterback or a teammate makes an apparent attempt to pass at any time before he or a teammate is tackled, steps out of bounds, or fumbles behind or at the statistical line of scrimmage, the play is scored as a sack and any yards lost attempting to pass.

Since the sack pushes offenses further from the defense’s goal line, it can be a critical element in which team wins a game. The players who have the most skill at this are often among the most valuable players in the NFL.

To determine the NFL’s all-time sack leader, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from Pro Football Reference. Sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982. All sack statistics from before that season are therefore considered unofficial and were compiled by independent researchers for the 1960-1981 seasons.

The list of all-time sack leaders is dominated by retired players, many of whom have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Only one player among the top 50 career sack leaders is playing during the 2021 season, though a handful of pass rushers are just outside the top 50 and seem likely to make the list by the end of the season.

With NFL teams relying on their passing game to carry their offense more and more, they have also stocked up on pass rushers on the other side of the ball. In the 2021 season, 13 teams are paying their defensive line more than any other position group — no other position group ranks as the highest-paid on more than six teams

The NFL sack leader is Bruce Smith. Here are the details:

> Career sacks: 200
> Years active: 1985-2003
> Team(s): Buffalo Bills, Washington Football Team

Click here to read NFL’s All-Time Sack Leaders