In nine NFL seasons, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has managed to record double-digit sacks seven times, including 22 sacks in 2011. Despite 117 sacks in nine years (an average of 13 sacks per year), the 31-year-old pass rusher appears unlikely to approach the record 200 career sacks accumulated by Bruce Smith.
"You've got to average 10 sacks a year for 20 years or you've got to average like 15 for (13 or 14 years). The numbers are tough," Allen told Tom Pelissero of USA Today.
While that mark seems as though it may be out of reach for Allen, the single-season record of 22.5 isn't one that he thinks is unreasonable. "Two hundred is tough. But 23 is reachable."
Former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan set the record in 2001 with 22.5 sacks, edging the record of 22 set by Mark Gastineau which was later tied by Allen. In the 11 seasons since the record was notched, several have come within striking distance, though.
In 2012, three second-year pass rushers eclipsed 18 sacks for the year, including J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, who became the ninth player to notch 20 or more sacks in a season. With so many young pass rushers, including Watt, still looking to improve, which players have the best chance at breaking Strahan's mark? Here's a look at the candidates and who we believe has the best chance.
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
2012 Stats: 20.5 sacks
After finishing with just 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, Watt broke out with a season that earned him the 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year award. His 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 16 passes defended were even more incredible considering he's a 3-4 defensive end, a position not typically highlighted for pass-rushing production. Still very young, there's plenty of reason to think Watt will be able to continue to improve, but with all teams now double-teaming and game-planning to stop him, he'll likely have a tougher road to big stats in 2013.
Odds of reaching 23: 10/1
Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
2012 Stats: 19.5 sacks
With 14 sacks as a rookie and 19.5 sacks in his second season, Smith would appear to be the favorite to break the record, at a glance. However, the absence of Justin Smith in front of him due to injury in the final games of the regular season seemed to highlight concerns about the 2011 first-round pick. Without the four-time Pro Bowler eating space in front of him, Aldon Smith seemingly disappeared and didn't finish with a sack in the last three weeks of the season, despite tallying 5.5 sacks against the Chicago Bears earlier in the year. Justin Smith will be back in 2013, but with his 34th birthday coming soon, questions of Aldon Smith's true value without the defensive end in front of him will be brought to the forefront in 2013.
Odds of reaching 23: 10/1
Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
2012 Stats: 12 sacks
Allen finished with a full 10 sacks fewer than he did in 2011, but considering the state of his shoulder and knee during the 2012 season, 12 sacks was actually really impressive. During the offseason, he had surgery on his biceps, AC joint and labrum in his left shoulder and the meniscus in his right knee. Now he's back in training camp and told Pelissero "this is the best I've felt in years." After six consecutive double-digit sack seasons, there's not much reason to think Allen can't make it seven years in a row and rack up sacks against the pass-happy NFC North.
Odds of reaching 23: 16/1
Charles Johnson/Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
2012 Stats: 12.5 sacks/11 sacks
If you were to ask Hardy, 22.5 sacks is not only a reachable record, but a smashable one as well. The Panthers pass rusher says he's aiming for 50 sacks in 2013 after tallying 11 sacks opposite Johnson in 2012. While no one will go so far as to predict Hardy will be correct, the young pass rusher could definitely see a boost in production after the Panthers selected Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. With an emphasis on getting after the passer, either Johnson or Hardy could be in for even more production after the pair finished with 23.5 sacks combined in 2012.
Odds of reaching 23: 17/1 & 19/1
2012 Stats: 15 sacks
After getting his football career started in the Canadian Football League, Wake has only had four years of experience in the NFL, but has managed to accumulate 43 sacks. His career-best season was in 2012 after moving from outside linebacker to defensive end, including a 4.5-sack game against the Arizona Cardinals. Settled in to his new scheme and continuing to improve, there's reason to believe that Wake could push for even more sacks in 2013, but at age 31 time is not on his side, just as it isn't with Allen. If rookie Dion Jordan can make an impact right away, room for Wake to shine could be there, though.
Odds of reaching 23: 18/1
2012 Stats: 13 sacks
Matthews had a strong start to his NFL career and an even stronger start to his second season in the league. With three sacks in each of his first two games of the year, Matthews looked like the heir apparent to Strahan's single-season record, but the season fizzled and the Packers outside linebacker finished with 13.5 sacks for the year. After only six sacks in 2011, Matthews recovered with a better year in 2012, but still hasn't come close to the 23 sacks he'd need to break the record.
Odds of reaching 23: 25/1
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