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There’s a New Packers Sacks Champion

Clay Matthews is the Green Bay Packers' official leader in sacks, a stat that became official in 1982. Researchers, however, have dug back to 1960.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Sacks didn’t become an official NFL stat until 1982. Thus, there’s a big chunk of Green Bay Packers history missing when it comes to ranking the franchise’s best pass rushers.

Thanks to the hard work of two researchers, some of the holes of history have been filled. Because of their efforts, Pro Football Reference now has unofficial sack totals dating to 1960.

“(John) Turney and (Nick) Webster, stalwart members of the Pro Football Researchers Association, have been compiling these numbers for nearly 30 years,” notes the Sports Reference blog. “To read a bit about their work and methods, we would recommend checking out these articles from the Hartford Courant, New York Times and ESPN's old Page 2. The important things to know are that these numbers are based upon review of official play-by-plays, watching game film, photographs and coaches' stats. The work continues to this day as new information is discovered, particularly for numbers from the early 1960s.

According to Sports Reference, 99 percent of sacks from the 1970 merger to 1981 are accounted for. From 1966 to 1969, the researchers have about 95 percent from the NFL and AFL. From 1961 through 1964, the figure falls to about 80 percent, then to two-thirds for 1960.

Still, some is better than none, and this new data provides a fuller picture of the best pass rushers in NFL history.

Official Packers Sack Leaders

These are the official numbers dating to 1982.

Clay Matthews, 83.5 (2009-18)

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, 74.5 (2000-08)

Reggie White, 68.5 (1993-98)

Tim Harris, 55.0 (1986-90)

Aaron Kampman, 54.0 (2002-09)

Ezra Johnson, 41.5 (1982-87)

Tony Bennett, 36.0 (1990-93)

Bryce Paup, 32.5 (1990-94)

Vonnie Holliday, 32.0 (1998-2002)

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Unofficial Packers Sack Leaders

These date to 1960, with the aforementioned holes in the data.

Willie Davis, 93.5 (1960-69)

Clay Matthews, 83.5 (2009-18)

Ezra Johnson, 82.0 (1977-87)

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, 74.5 (2000-08)

Reggie White, 68.5 (1993-98)

Lionel Aldridge, 62.0 (1963-71)

Tim Harris, 55.0 (1986-90)

Aaron Kampman, 54.0 (2002-09)

Henry Jordan, 52.0 (1959-69)

Clarence Williams, 49.0 (1970-77)

A New Sacks Champion

The big winner, obviously, is Willie Davis. The Hall of Famer had a breakout 1961 season with 9.5 sacks, then added 11-plus sacks in five of the next six seasons.

With the front half of his career missing, the other winner is Johnson. A first-round pick in 1977, he piled up 17.5 sacks in 1978. Only Harris, with 19.5 sacks in 1989, had more in a single season. However, the Packers’ Media Guide lists Johnson with having 20.5 unofficial sacks that season.

Meanwhile, on the new, unofficial all-time NFL leaderboard, Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198) still reign supreme. The fresh faces in the top-10 list are Deacon Jones, who zoomed past Kevin Greene and into third place with 173.5 sacks from 1961 through 1974, Jack Youngblood, with 151.5 sacks from 1971 through 1984, and Alan Page, with 148.5 sacks from 1967 through 1981.

Davis, by the way, ranks 74th on the unofficial list and Matthews is tied for 104th.