Posted by Mike Lynch on November 11, 2022
Entering the 2022 NFL season, the NFL Record and Fact Book (the official record book of the National Football League) listed Ben Roethlisberger as the all-time leader in 'Most Time Sacked, Career' (as it is listed in the guide) with 554. Tom Brady was listed second with 543. Above this list is the note 'Times Sacked has been compiled since 1963."
Subsequently, Brady made a bit of news when he recently passed Big Ben to become the 'all-time' leader in Times Sacked.
Entering the season, Pro-Football-Reference would have listed the same leaderboard as the Record and Fact Book, though our statistics for this category went back to only 1969. However, thanks to the expert research of T.J. Troup, and some consultation with the great John Turney, our updated all-time 'Times Sacked' leaderboard also has a new leader. But it's not Tom Brady. It is Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.
Troup has provided PFR with game-by-game Time Sacked totals for all NFL passers from 1963-68 and also coverage for most games from 1960-62. Additionally, he has provided us with Sack Yards Lost for all player games from 1960-68. We have Tarkenton with 572 Times Sacked in his career, 15 ahead of the 557 Brady has as of today. Tarkenton is also our leader in Sack Yards Lost, where he is the only player with over 5,000 yards (no one else is even over 4,000).
There are a few caveats and wrinkles with this data, as the sack statistic has had a bit of a long, strange journey over the years. We will attempt to lay out some relevant ones below:
- As you might be aware, player sacks (for defensive players) have only been officially tracked since 1982. However, there is sufficient evidence to identify player sacks back another couple decades.
- Team sacks, on the other hand, have been officially tracked on a game and season level since 1963. The official statistics did not, however, explicitly say how many times each individual QB was sacked and for how many yards (though this was oftentimes obvious if the team used one QB in a given game, and can be corroborated via play-by-play).
- The NFL first started explicitly listing Times Sacked and Sacked Yards lost as a QB statistic in 1969. Until now, we never had it for any earlier seasons.
- Old Vikings media guides credited Tarkenton with 44 times sacked in 1961. We feel comfortable with 42 based upon review of gamebooks and play-by-play. But there is no 'official' correct number for any of this pre-1969 and, especially so, pre-1963. However, 'official' merely means 'of the office' and does not connote infallibility. Our mission is to present the most accurate statistics available. Sometimes this warrants ignoring 'official' designations.
- Even though Times Sacked wasn't added as an official statistic until 1963, Yards Lost Attempting to Pass (which is what Sack Yards Lost was called in earlier times) was tracked. Our data on that is complete for the NFL game-by-game back to 1960, but in some cases from 1960-62 we don't know how many times a given QB was sacked. We have Sack Yards Lost for many games back to the late 1940s, but it was not consistently recorded until 1952.
- As a funny aside, sacks (a term which hadn't yet been coined) counted as running plays in 1946. From 1947-49 the yards lost were added up but not subtracted from net yards passing.
- This new data from 1960-68 applies to the NFL only. We have not added AFL data on this. The AFL was obviously a separate league until the leagues merged in 1970, but AFL statistics do count as NFL statistics as part of the merger agreement. We may try to add AFL data back to 1960 if it can be found.
This new data also allows us to compute some useful statistics for older seasons:
- Sack%: Previously we could only calculate this back to 1969, but now we can calculate it back to at least 1963 for all NFL QBs (and in some cases back to 1960)
- Net Yards per Attempt: Previously we could only calculate this back to 1969, but now we can calculate it back to at least 1963 for all NFL QBs (and in some cases back to 1960).
- Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt: Previously we could only calculate this back to 1969, but now we can calculate it back to at least 1963 for all NFL QBs (and in some cases back to 1960)
- Adjusted Passing Statistics: Net Yards per Attempt Index, Adjusted Yards per Attempt Index and Sack Percentage Index can all be calculated back to 1963 for all NFL QBs (rather than 1969).