While offensive records fall seemingly yearly, the NFL single-season and career sack records have proven harder to break each year. What are the current NFL sack records for individual games, single-season, and across a career?
NFL Single-Game Sack Record
The single-game sack record is another that has stood the test of time so far. The record of 7 sacks in a game was set back in 1990 by Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs. He took the record from Fred Dean of the San Francisco 49ers, who had 6 sacks in a game in 1983. Since then, another three players have joined Dean on 6 sacks in a single game, including Thomas in 1998.
1) 7.0 — Derrick Thomas (1990, Chiefs vs. Seahawks)
T2) 6.0 — Adrian Clayborn (2017, Falcons vs. Cowboys)
T2) 6.0 — Fred Dean (1983, 49ers vs. Saints)
T2) 6.0 — Derrick Thomas (1998, Chiefs vs. Raiders)
T2) 6.0 — Osi Umenyiora (2007, Giants vs. Eagles)
T2) 6.0 — Khalil Mack (2023, Raiders vs. Chargers)
NFL Single-Season Sack Record
NFL sacks have been counted since 1960, but they have only been officially recorded since 1982. That has led to two different records, an unofficial and an official record. The official record is jointly held at 22.5 sacks by Michael Strahan in 2001 and T.J. Watt in 2021, while Al Baker leads the unofficial record at 23.0 in 1978. Here are the current top five in terms of the single-season sack record.
T1) 22.5 — Michael Strahan (2001)
T1) 22.5 — T.J. Watt (2021)
T3) 22.0 — Jared Allen (2011)
T3) 22.0 — Mark Gastineau (1984)
T3) 22.0 — Justin Houston (2014)
Not listed above is Deacon Jones, who posted two 22.0-sack seasons in 1964 and 1968. What makes that number particularly remarkable is that Jones achieved those numbers in 14-game seasons. Jones would lead the league in sacks five times in a six-year period from 1964 to 1969.
NFL Career Sack Record
Much like with the single-season records, there are two sets of records, official records set after 1982 and unofficial records set with numbers from seasons before that. The difference here is that the top record spot remains the same on both lists: Bruce Smith, who had 200 sacks between 1985 and 2003. Here is the top five when it comes to official career records.
1) 200.0 — Bruce Smith (1985-2003)
2) 198.0 — Reggie White (1985-2000)
3) 160.0 — Kevin Greene (1985-1999)
4) 159.5 — Julius Peppers (2002-2018)
5) 150.5 — Chris Doleman (1985-1999)
The 1985 season was quite the year for the start of pass-rush careers. Four of the top five in terms of the official career sack leaders started their careers in that season. Bruce Smith, Kevin Greene, and Chris Doleman were all selected in the 1985 NFL Draft, while Reggie White was selected in the 1984 Supplemental NFL Draft.
When we look to the unofficial career NFL sack record, it is no surprise that Deacon Jones sits in the top five. Jones had 173.5 sacks in his career spanning 14 years between 1961 and 1974.