NFL sack leaders: T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett chase the record

As Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett stood in the visitors locker room Sunday with his left arm in a sling, the challenge of chasing one of the more prestigious NFL milestones became evident.

Garrett is tied with the Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack for the second-most sacks in the league with 13, putting the pair within striking distance of 22.5, which is the single-season record shared by Michael Strahan (2001) and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (2021).

“I’ve played through things that should have sidelined me before, and I’m going to continue to fight,” Garrett said before learning there was no structural damage to the shoulder and he could play Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. “We have high hopes for this season.

“Nothing like this is going to hold us back, or me back.”

To be clear, Garrett isn’t concerned with breaking records. He’s focused on helping the Browns (7-4) reach the playoffs. But for that to happen, Cleveland will need its All-Pro to continue on a pace that has put him in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

As far as the sacks record, staying healthy is paramount. Strahan played in all 16 games in 2001, and Watt missed one in 2021, which featured a 17-game season.

Watt again is in position to chase the record. His two sacks in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals put him at 13.5 in 11 games. He’s tied for the league lead with the Minnesota Vikings’ Danielle Hunter, who had 1.5 Monday night against the Chicago Bears in his 12th game. There’s more on the line than team success or prestige for Hunter, who has incentives in his contract tied to sack totals.

Here is a look at the top six leaders in sacks this season, their chances of breaking the record and their obstacles.

Legitimate shot

T.J. Watt, linebacker

Pittsburgh Steelers

Sacks: 13.5 in 11 games

On pace for 21

Why he can break the record: He has done it before. Well, kind of. Watt came up just a bit short in 2021 when he wasn’t credited for a sack in the final regular-season game at Baltimore. This year, though, Watt can break the record, because unlike in 2022, he’s healthy, and the emergence of Alex Highsmith gives the Steelers the one-two punch that keeps offenses from being able to double-team Watt.

Why he might fall short: The Steelers’ pass rush isn’t consistent. Against the Browns in Week 11, Watt and the defensive line struggled to generate pressure on rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. At halftime, the Steelers didn’t have any sacks or quarterback hits. Watt finally got it going in the second half with a sack and three quarterback hits. — Brooke Pryor

Key stat: With two sacks Sunday, Watt has 91 in just 98 games. That’s the fewest games ever for someone to reach 90 sacks. His brother, J.J., is second on that list with 102.

Myles Garrett, defensive end

Cleveland Browns

Sacks: 13.0 in 11 games

On pace for: 20.1

Why he can break the record: Garrett is capable of putting up big sack numbers in a single game. He had 3.5 sacks in a win over Tennessee earlier this season. Two years ago, he had 4.5 sacks in a victory over Chicago. Sacks aside, Garrett is having the best season of his career.

Why he might fall short: Despite the best supporting cast he has ever played with up front, Garrett is facing the highest double-team rate among edge rushers in the league (31.8%). Garrett is still fighting through those double-teams, but often, his pass-rushing teammates clean up sacks that his pressure creates. Garrett also has the shoulder injury. — Jake Trotter

Key stat: He’s the fourth player with 10+ sacks in six of his first seven NFL seasons, joining Reggie White, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Khalil Mack, linebacker

Los Angeles Chargers

Sacks: 13.0 in 11 games

On pace for: 20.1

Why he can break the record: Just look at the Chargers’ Week 4 game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Mack had six sacks — a franchise single-game record — two of which resulted in fumbles. Mack can break this record because of his ability to garner sacks in bunches, as he has proved this season. He had two Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Why he might fall short: The Chargers had one of the best edge-rusher tandems in the league with Mack and Joey Bosa, but Bosa suffered a foot sprain in their Week 11 loss to the Green Bay Packers that put him on injured reserve. With Bosa out for at least the next three games, the focus will be on limiting Mack, and he could face an increase of double-teams and chip blocks, although that didn’t stop him Sunday night. — Kris Rhim

Key stat: His 98 sack yards this season lead the NFL.

Need a couple of big games to get there



Danielle Hunter makes his pick for NFL’s best sack artist

Danielle Hunter sits down with Michelle Beisner-Buck to discuss his pass-rushing ability for the Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings

Sacks: 13.5 in 12 games

On pace for: 19.1

Why he can break the record: Hunter is a relentless, experienced pass-rusher who still has his speed and perhaps more strength than ever after working his way back from neck and pectoral injuries in 2020 and 2021. And opposing offenses can’t double-team him as much as they would like given the unpredictable nature of Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ scheme. Hunter has a financial incentive to pile up the sacks. He already has earned a $2 million bonus for 12.5 sacks and could make it $3 million with 14, according to Roster Management System.

Why he might fall short: Sacks come in part due to luck and circumstance, and while Hunter has piled them up this season, his overall pressure rate (9.7%) ranks No. 41 in the NFL. So unless he accelerates that pressure rate, he’ll need to continue his incredible pressure-to-sack efficiency. He had 1.5 sacks Monday night against the Bears. — Kevin Seifert

Key stat: He leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 18.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Sacks: 12.0 in 11 games

On pace for: 18.5

Why he can break the record: The Jaguars are scheduled to face rookie quarterbacks in the Carolina Panthers’ Bryce Young and the Tennessee Titans’ Will Levis (as well as possibly the Browns’ Thompson-Robinson, who suffered a concussion Sunday), and a journeyman in the Cincinnati Bengals’ Jake Browning. If the Jaguars can confuse those guys and make them hold on to the ball, that should allow Allen and the pass rush to get home. Allen had 2.5 sacks on Sunday against Houston Texans rookie C.J. Stroud.

Why he might fall short: Allen’s sacks have come in bunches (10.5 in four games) and he’s had a history of dry spells. He has gone stretches of eight and seven games without a sack in the past two seasons. — Mike DiRocco

Key stat: Sunday was his fourth game with multiple sacks, tying him with Calais Campbell (2017) and Yannick Ngakoue (2017) for the most in a season in Jaguars history.

Long shots

Dallas Cowboys

Sacks: 11.5 in 11 games

On pace for: 17.8

Why he can break the record: Last year, Parsons had six games with at least two sacks on his way to finishing with 13.5, so he can get hot. He has four sacks in his past two games and is facing quarterbacks who like to throw the ball. The Seattle Seahawks’ Geno Smith visits Thursday, and he was sacked six times in his past game. If it comes down to the last game, the Washington Commanders’ Sam Howell has been sacked 55 times already.

Why he might fall short: Using history as a guide — he needs 11.5 sacks in his final six games. He has never had more than 9.5 sacks in a six-game span, and that came during his rookie season. He’ll have to get hotter than he’s ever been. That’s possible, but maybe not likely. If other Dallas pass-rushers can generate consistent pressure, then that would help his cause. —Todd Archer

Key stat: He had a 40% pass rush win rate Sunday in a win over the Commanders, raising his PRWR to 34.6% on the season. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa posted the highest single-season mark at 33.7% in 2017, when the stat was first kept.

Las Vegas Raiders

Sacks: 11.5 in 12 games

On pace for: 16.3

Why he can break the record: Crosby’s conditioning is his strength — he simply does not tire, his opponents and teammates say — and his production reflects that correlation. Consider: Entering this season, 20.5 of Crosby’s 37.5 career sacks came in the Raiders’ last nine games of the season. Another late-season push could make Crosby more than a long shot.

Why he might fall short: Crosby currently has 11.5 of the Raiders’ 28 sacks, with only 3.5 coming from the edge opposite of Crosby. With so little relative production coming from the other side (Malcolm Koonce has 2 sacks, rookie Tyree Wilson has 1.5), teams will be able to double- and triple-team Crosby even more, when they’re not already chipping him. — Paul Gutierrez

Key stat: His 50 quarterback pressures this season lead the NFL.

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