1982 is the magic year for pass-rushing records in the NFL. That season, the league began counting sacks as an official statistic, helping give pass-rushers an easy metric with which people could judge how effective a player is and was at bringing down the quarterback.
The modern value of sacks may be debated, and Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith would surely be happy to have a spirited discussion about the value of pressures vs. sacks at any time. But sacks remain the single easiest number by which to judge a pass-rusher’s production. As long as they played after 1982, at least.
But on Monday, Pro Football Reference published the results of painstaking research by a pair of football researchers into game film in an attempt to quantify sacks farther back into NFL history. These two individuals reviewed a multitude of official records to try to recreate and account for sacks dating back to the 1960 season. Click here for a thorough discussion on this research, which has shaken up many of the career and single-season sack leaderboards, both across the NFL as a whole and for teams with a storied history like the Packers.
In fact, the biggest result of this research as far as Green Bay is concerned is a change atop the unofficial career leaderboard. No longer can Clay Matthews reliably claim to be the Packers’ top sacker in franchise history, as that title now belongs to a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played several decades earlier.
Here is a look at a few of the names who now show up — or who significantly moved up — on the Packers’ leaderboard now that this data has been incorporated.
New #1: Willie Davis
Davis, a deserving Hall of Famer and member of the Hall’s All-1960s Team, takes over the Packers’ top spot in career sacks based on this research. Davis is credited with a total of 93.5 sacks from 1960 through 1969, reaching that number thanks to an impressive string of All-Pro seasons in the middle part of the decade.
Davis ripped off four straight double-digit sack seasons from 1964 to 1967, topping out at 14.5 in 1964. That also comes after a 13-sack season in 1962; he also earned first-team All-Pro honors for each of those five campaigns, four of which ended with the Packers winning the NFL Championship.
Much of 1977 first-round draft pick Ezra Johnson’s career did have sacks counted after they became an official statistic in 1982, but his first five seasons in a Green Bay Packer did not get the credit that they deserved. In particular, Johnson’s 1978 season — which saw him earn his only trip to the Pro Bowl — goes down as the second-highest single-season sack total in franchise history with 17.5. That falls behind only Tim Harris’ 19.5 number from 1989.
Previously, Johnson was credited with only 41.5 sacks as a Packer and 55.5 overall for his career. Those numbers balloon up to 82 and 96 with his first five seasons counted, and his Packers totals put him in third place behind Davis and Clay Matthews (83.5).
The “other” defensive end on Vince Lombardi’s dominant mid-1960s teams was Aldridge, who played for the Packers from 1963 to 1971. Although Aldridge never made a Pro Bowl, he paired up with Davis to make for a fearsome tandem, as the two each posted double-digit sacks in 1965 and 1966 (10 and 12.5 for Aldridge in those two respective years).
His newly-recognized total of 62 sacks puts him in sixth place in Packers lore, following Kabeer Gbaja Biamila (74.5) and Reggie White (68.5) in 4th and 5th places.
Yes, the Lombardi Packers have a third defensive lineman on the franchise’s top ten list, with defensive tackle Henry Jordan getting in on the act. Like Davis, Jordan is a Hall of Famer, and PFREF credits him with 52 sacks during his Packers career from 1960 to 1969. He may even climb the rankings a bit more if there were any missed sacks from the 1960 season, as he was an All-Pro that year but currently shows no sacks.
Jordan’s five straight All-Pro nods speaks to the consistency of his play, as he earned those honors every year from 1960 to 1964. It’s nice to see at least one statistical measure that demonstrates how great he was on the interior of the line for over a decade.