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NFL won’t recognize pre-1982 sacks, but they shake up the Falcons career leaderboards

Claude Humphrey is still only Atlanta’s “unofficial” sack leader.

Atlanta Falcons Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

You may have missed this—there’s so much NFL news right now!—but Pro Football Reference recently added unofficial sacks to its database after a long period of research. I suspect most people here use the site quite often, given that it’s an extremely handy repository for stats and historic information about the league, but if you haven’t explored you might not realize how much it shakes up the all-time sacks leaderboard.

For example, if you weigh those unofficial sacks equally with the official numbers, the great Deacon Jones is third all-time behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Jack Youngblood (#6) and Alan Page (#8) shake things up further, pushing more recent sack artists like Terrell Suggs and Richard Dent out of the top ten. The NFL has made it clear it’s not planning to recognize these totals any time soon, even if Pro Football Reference is emphatic that they’ve properly recognized 99% of the totals from 1970 to 1981.

In the olden days the NFL kept track of sacks just fine, but pinned those numbers on the quarterback instead of awarding them to the defender. The acknowledgement that it’s not always the offensive line’s fault (or at least their fault alone) or even a defender’s monumental achievement when a quarterback eats turf is something many of us fans and analysts can do a better job of grappling with, but historically all that means is that researchers have had to piece together who the defender was on a given sack in order to add it to the tally. Now that this work is largely done, it’s odd that the NFL is so staunch on this one given how ready they are to blow up the record books with a 17th game, but barring a major change of heart it appears guys like Deacon Jones and Claude Humphrey will continue to be Hall of Famers without their official sack totals in the league’s annals.

Overall, though, this shift was met with a lot of enthusiasm, here and elsewhere, because it’s great to have all these numbers in one place. As you’d suspect, it also shifts the Falcons all-time career sacks leaderboard in interesting ways, making it a bit less depressing if you take the unofficial numbers as gospel.

Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey (99.5) easily surpasses the great John Abraham (68.5), and his 130 total sacks puts him at 24th all-time, just 3.5 behind Abe for their respective careers. The underrated John Zook would be third on the leaderboard behind them with 61, all of them attained opposite Humphrey during an era I really wish I could have seen up close. Jeff Merrow and Don Smith, who played together on the Falcons line in the late 70s and early 80s, crash the list at spots 8 and 9, tying Vic Beasley with 37.5 sacks each. Former great Greg Brezina and (#15, 26 sacks) and defensive tackle Mike Lewis (#17, 25 sacks) are new additions to the top 20.

Here’s that new top 20 with newcomers bolded, which yes, still features Kroy Biermann:

  1. Claude Humphrey, 99.5
  2. John Abraham, 68.5
  3. John Zook, 61
  4. Chuck Smith, 58.5
  5. Patrick Kerney, 58
  6. Travis Hall, 41.5
  7. Vic Beasley, 37.5
  8. Jeff Merrow, 37.5
  9. Don Smith, 37.5
  10. Brady Smith, 32
  11. Lester Archambeau, 31
  12. Rod Coleman, 30
  13. Rick Bryan, 29
  14. Jonathan Babineaux, 27
  15. Greg Brezina, 26
  16. Grady Jarrett, 25.5
  17. Mike Lewis, 25
  18. Mike Pitts, 25
  19. Tim Green, 24
  20. Kroy Biermann, 23.5

As you’ll notice, there’s only one active Falcons defender on this list, and Grady Jarrett figures to to push his way past Brezina in the first few weeks of the season. The team’s sole great defender could easily find his way all the way up at #10 by himself by season’s end with just 7 sacks, something he should be able to snag if Dean Pees and company can put even a semi-competent defense on the field around him.

We’ll see if the NFL changes its mind about this down the line, but it’s very cool to have these numbers more readily available to consider the impact of great pass rushers of yesteryear, especially for a Falcons team with a pretty dispiriting history of getting sacks. If you haven’t checked out the new NFL-wide list, hop on over.