Michael Strahan spent the entirety of his 15-year NFL career with the New York Giants and earned a well-deserved spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. His 141.5 career sacks are sixth on the NFL’s all-time list, but he’s also the owner of arguably the most coveted pas- rushing record: the single-season mark of 22.5 sacks.
Strahan set the record in 2001 — a season in which he was dominant and led the NFL in both sacks and forced fumbles. But the last sack of the year for Strahan was as sketchy as it gets.
After getting shut down all game against the Green Bay Packers, Strahan was running out of time to get the last sack he needed to pass Mark Gastineau’s record of 22 sacks. The Packers were nursing a 34-25 lead with less than three minutes to go and were working on running out the remaining clock.
Green Bay didn’t have much reason to pass, but Brett Favre rolled out of the pocket straight into Strahan. It was the easiest sack possible and Favre immediately congratulated Strahan for his new spot in the record books.
After the game, Favre told reporters that nobody deserved the record more than Strahan. According to the New York Times, Favre changed a play call that was supposed to be a run for Ahman Green, and his Packers teammates weren’t as amused.
Strahan has also had to deal with accusations that his record-breaking moment was a sham.
“I just hate that it got caught up in the wash of the record-breaking sack,” Strahan said on NFL Network in 2013. “The sack record’s great — absolutely phenomenal, but I almost feel like in a sense it was diminished, because everyone goes, ‘Oh, Brett Favre gave you a sack.’ I caught so much flak over it. It’s not worth it, because everyone looks as if one sack that they question is the defining moment of my career.
“I’ve always kind of taken it, but I always have to say, if you don’t like it, then break it.”
The record has stood for 17 seasons, but it’s ripe for breaking. Five players have reached at least 20 sacks since Strahan took the record, and it seems like just a matter of time until one gets to 23.
Most recently, Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs got to 22 sacks with a four-sack performance in the last game of the 2014 season. Would he have gotten a record-breaking 23rd on the year if the Chiefs coaches didn’t drop him into coverage on the final play of the game? The world will never know.
With injuries slowing him down, Houston hasn’t been able to reach double-digit sacks in any of the last three seasons.
So if Houston doesn’t look like he’s gearing up for another run at Strahan, which players in the NFL are better positioned to take away the record?
Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Consistently strong numbers make Miller an easy candidate. He’s averaged about 12 sacks per season, and cracked double-digits in all but one of his seven NFL seasons. Miller’s only year under 10 sacks was a suspension-shortened 2013.
Miller’s best year was 2012 when he had 18.5 sacks, but his numbers leveled off when the Broncos’ offense hit rocky times. It’s a lot easier to get sacks when the opposing team is trying to play keep up.
With Case Keenum under center, perhaps the Denver defense will get to pin its ears back like it did earlier in Miller’s career. If it does, don’t be surprised to see Miller pushing his sack numbers back into the elite tier and maybe even the record-breaking stratosphere.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
In 2016, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said Mack could get 30 sacks in a season. He said it again in 2017.
Carr hasn’t said it yet in 2018, but he probably hasn’t changed his mind about Mack’s huge potential. The pass rusher has 36.5 sacks in the last three seasons with a personal-best 15 sacks in 2015.
Still just 27 years old, there’s plenty of reason to believe Mack could turn it up, especially with new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther scheming up blitzes for the two-time All Pro.
Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
The NFL’s sack leader in 2017 was Jones with 17 sacks. After four years in New England, the Patriots traded Jones to Arizona, where he’s really ramped up his production.
An impressive aspect of Jones’ huge year is it wasn’t made up of explosive games — just consistent numbers on a weekly basis. He had at least one sack in 13 of 16 games and no games with more than two sacks. That suggests there was nothing fluky about his league-leading sack total.
Jones is still very much in his prime and should continue to gets sacks week in and week out.
Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
The 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year will turn 23 in July and has just 28 NFL games under his belt. But he already has 23 sacks, with 12.5 coming during the 2017 season. He even set a record for the most sacks in a player’s first 20 games.
Bosa is very much of the Strahan mold when it comes to defensive ends. He’s 6’5, 280 pounds and unlike Miller, Mack and Jones, he’s going to have his hand in the dirt every snap.
But if Strahan and J.J. Watt — who put up 20.5-sack seasons in 2012 and 2014 — are any indication, that doesn’t mean his sack numbers will suffer. Bosa has a long career ahead of terrorizing quarterbacks, and his numbers only stand to improve.
Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Including Garrett on this list may seem optimistic and based solely on the fact that he was the No. 1 pick in 2017. But his rookie year was more impressive than most seem to realize.
Garrett finished the year with seven sacks, a solid total for a player who missed five games and really didn’t start to play much until Week 7. Altogether, he played less than half of Cleveland’s defensive snaps over the course of the season.
If Garrett can stay healthy in 2018 and beyond, there’s no reason to think he won’t quickly become one of the upper-echelon pass rushers in the NFL — potentially even the kind of unblockable monster who can top 20 sacks.
Strahan’s record isn’t an unbreakable one. A player topping 20 sacks isn’t that rare in the NFL. It’s only a matter of time before one of the league’s many dynamic, young pass rushers puts together a special season and dethrones Strahan.
And that’d be for the best. While Strahan deserves to be remembered as one of the best defensive ends ever, his single-season sack record is bogus.