I admit, out of all of my bold predictions, this one might be the boldest.
Over the past few seasons players have gotten so incredibly close to breaking the single season sack record. The record was of course set by Michael Strahan back in 2001.
For over a decade so many players have gotten close, but Strahan’s record has always eluded players. In 2008 DeMarcus Ware finished with 20 sacks. In 2011 Jared Allen recorded 22. J.J. Watt fell two sacks shy of tying the record in 2012, and Robert Quinn had 19 last year.
I think it’s safe to eliminate Ware and Allen from contention. Their productivity has dropped in recent years, and it would take a miracle for them to replicate their storied seasons. So let’s take a lot at all of the legitimate contenders.
Cameron Wake (MIA), Clay Matthews (GB), Terrell Suggs (BAL), Mario Williams (BUF), Brian Orakpo (WSH).
Aldon Smith, Greg Hardy:
Both Smith and Hardy are phenomenal pass rushers, but both are dealing with possible suspensions. Smith’s looming suspension stems from a litany of violations of the personal-conduct and substance-abuse policies. Hardy’s suspension is due to a domestic violence issue, and ESPN is reporting he could be looking at a possible six game suspension. When they’re on the field, they’re almost unstoppable. The problem is these two players have rather unpredictable personalities. Just for the record, Smith had 19.5 sacks in 2012. Hardy has 15 last year. If there were no suspensions, both men would be higher on this list, especially Smith.
Update: On Friday afternoon multiple sources including ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Aldon Smith will serve a nine game suspension.
Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts:
Mathis led the league in sacks last year and he is still a very productive player. Despite his age (33), he’s one of the better pass rushers in the league and it’s not crazy to imagine him having a 2014 similar to 2013. However, Mathis is suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy? So that negates all of the positives for Mathis. It would take a super human effort for Mathis to even come close to breaking Strahan’s record.
Verdict: Impossible. I will be absolutely baffled if Mathis flirts with 20 sacks for a consecutive year.
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants:
Yes, I might be insane. JPP combines speed and power with natural athletic ability to terrorize offensive lines. At least, he used to. But in all seriousness, JPP was an absolute terror to block in 2011. JPP accumulated 16.5 sacks and was always making plays for the Giants. However, since 2011 Pierre-Paul has dealt with a boatload of injuries, and it’s rendered his play ineffective for the most part. JPP is reportedly 100 percent healthy for the first time since 2011, and if he can truly return to the player he was during Big Blue’s Super Bowl run, breaking the single season sack record is not completely out of the realm of possibility. ESPN Stats and Information said that JPP’s 29.5 sacks are the most by a Giant in his first four years. The New York pass rusher looked good in the preseason, but let’s not make a lot of hoopla over preseason.
Verdict: Super long shot. Don’t bet on it.
Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints:
Cameron Jordan is probably not the first player you would think is capable of breaking the single season sack record, but he’s as talented as they come. Maybe not as well known as a player like Watt, Jordan had somewhat of a quiet breakout 2013 campaign, as he totaled 12.5 sacks for New Orleans. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Jordan has led the Saints with 11 batted passes since 2011. The 6’4″ player boasts sub 4.7 speed, and he’s tough to deal with. Jordan is a key cog in evil genius Rob Ryan’s defense. He also benefits from having an offense that can put up points, which will give him more opportunities to bring down the quarterback.
Verdict: Wildcard. Jordan is good, but I don’t think he’s at the upper echelon of pass rushers quite yet.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos:
Before Miller got drafted in 2011, he was already getting compared to legends like Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas. It’s easy to see why he garnered such praise. The only way to properly describe number 58′s abilities is by describing him as a beast. Despite that however, Miller suffered setbacks last year. For all intents and purposes, 2013 was an awful year for Miller. Miller served a six game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, and he would subsequently tear his ACL against the Texans. Miller still recorded five sacks in only nine games. The talented pass rusher is expected to be ready for the start of the 2014 season, and he is reportedly looking like the Von Miller of old. Like the aforementioned Jordan, Von benefits from playing on an incredibly lethal offense. The Peyton Manning led broncos offense is typically ahead in games. What that means is that teams are forced to throw the game plan out the window and throw the ball in an effort to keep up. That gives Miller more chances to create havoc. Miller is now playing with DeMarcus Ware, and Ware should prove to compliment Miller very well.
Verdict: Great chance if he can stay healthy and out of trouble.
Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams:
Playing on arguably the deepest defensive line in the entire NFL, Robert Quinn is surrounded by talent. For someone playing on a defensive line that boasts four first rounders, Quinn has done an exceptional job of separating himself from the rest of the group. Playing in a small market and rarely getting mainstream attention, Robert Quinn is the NFC’s best pass rusher. Quinn is all speed. His 4.6 forty speed helps him routinely beat left tackles, as he often leaves them wondering what just happened. At times, Quinn would get to the quarterback before they had time to scan the field. That’s fast, folks. Quinn displays that speed when he’s chasing down some of the league’s fastest signal callers. Last year Quinn had 19 sacks, and the 24 year old is not likely to slow down anytime soon. There’s only a handful of offensive linemen that can contend with the freakish athletic ability of Quinn.
Verdict: Very, very good chance.
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans:
Being labeled as the, “Milk Man,” by Houston teammates, Justin James Watt always delivers. Watt is adept at swatting passes at the line of scrimmage, but he’s one of the most feared pass rushers in the entire league. He has brute strength as well as speed, which makes him superbly dangerous. ESPN even ranked Watt as the best defensive players in the entire NFLDuring HBO’s Hard Knocks Watt was practicing against Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, and it looked like a man wrestling a bear. Watt is head and shoulders better than most pass rushers in the NFL. His technique is incredible, and he rarely makes mistakes. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Watt is one of three players to record 200+ tackles and 35+ sacks in his first three seasons. The other two players? Reggie White and Derrick Thomas. Out of all the players on this list, Watt is probably the most similar to Strahan in the sense that both are tremendous pass rushers, but both play the run exceptionally well. Even if 2014 isn’t the year for Watt to break the sack record, I believe it’s just a matter of time before the, “Milk Man,” delivers a record breaking performance.
Verdict: Great chance.
Another reason why I believe Strahan’s sack record is in serious jeopardy is because of how pass oriented the league is. The NFL is more of a passing league now than it ever has been, which in turn means more chances for defenders to get sacks. I just think it’s fitting that the year Michael Strahan gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, his single season sack record gets broken by an up and coming star. A proverbial passing of the torch.
Tags: 49ers AFC Aldon Smith Cameron Jordan Denver Broncos Greg Hardy Houston Texans J.J. Watt Michael Strahan New Orleans Saints NFC Robert Mathis Robert Quinn Sack Record San Francisco 49ers St. Louis Rams Von Miller