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Moving Backwards: NFL Quarterbacks Sacked Most Often Since 1970

It’s hard for a QB to be successful in the NFL if they can’t avoid sacks

When an NFL team drives on offense, there are few momentum killers as crushing as a sack. Watching the leader of the offense go down, often hard and well behind the line of scrimmage, can really sink momentum. Some signal callers are blessed with stalwart offensive lines and/or an intrinsic ability to escape, while others aren’t quite so lucky. Based on sack percentage (the percentage of time a QB is sacked based on their drop backs to throw the ball), which quarterbacks, with at least 1,500 pass attempts, have been sacked most frequently since 1970 when such stats started being tracked?

5th, Randall Cunningham-10.1%: In his 16-year NFL career, Cunningham was one of the most entertaining quarterbacks in the league. He was a dual threat, able to beat the competition with his arm or his legs. He combined for 29,070 passing yards, 207 passing touchdowns and 4,928 rushing yards. Unfortunately, he was also sacked a lot — especially during the 11 seasons he spent with the Philadelphia Eagles. During his stint in the City of Brotherly Love, he was sacked 422 times in 122 games, leading the league five times. This means he hit the ground 11.2% of the time when he dropped back to pass. The 72 sacks he endured in 1986 is still second all-time. Missing the better parts of three seasons with Philly because of injury, one has to wonder if his excellent 63–43–1 record with the team may have been even more impressive if he was upright more often.

4th, Tony Eason- 10.5%: A first-round draft choice of the New England Patriots in 1983, he flashed real talent but never developed consistency. It didn’t help that his offensive line had a difficult time protecting him. During his career, which spanned eight years, he was 28–23 as a starter, throwing for 11,142 yards, 61 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. He was also sacked 177 times, including a league-leading 59 in 1984 when he was in his first year as a regular starter.

3rd, Neil Lomax- 10.3%: During his eight-year career with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, Lomax was a maddening blend of talent and inconsistency. A two-time Pro Bowler, he passed for 22,771 yards, 136 touchdowns and 90 interceptions. He was one of the most prolific passers at the time, leading the league in passing in 1987 and finished second in 1984. It just didn’t push his team to a higher level, as he was 47–52–2 as a starter in 108 career games. He was forced to retire following the 1988 season because of a severely arthritic hip, which was certainly not helped by his propensity to get mauled by defensive players when going back to pass. He was sacked a total of 362 times, finishing in the top five every season except his rookie year when he started just 7 games and still finished sixth.

2nd, David Carr- 10.5%: It’s not necessarily hyperbole to say that the 2002 first overall NFL draft pick was sacked out of the league. Upon joining the Houston Texans, he immediately became the starter on a team with many holes — with one of the largest coming from a porous offensive line. Carr was never able to truly get on track, taking sack after sack and frequently being on the run to escape others. He was cut loose after the 2006 campaign and spent the final years of his decade-long career as a seldom-used backup for multiple teams. He was 23–56 as a starter in 94 games, throwing for 14,452 yards, 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions. H was also sacked a whopping 267 times, leading the league three times. His 76 sacks in 2002 as a rookie and 68 in 2005 are first and third all-time among quarterbacks.

1st, Greg Landry- 11.8%: Landry spent the bulk of his 15-year NFL playing career with the Detroit Lions. Although he didn’t run frequently, he was an effective scrambler (2,655 rushing yards), which did benefit him since he was sacked so often. In 146 career games, he was 44–51–3 as a starter. He threw for 16,052 yards with 98 touchdowns and 103 picks. He was also sacked 310 times, hitting the ground at a higher rate than any other signal caller in history. This was particularly devastating because he played at a time when teams passed at a much lower frequency than they do today. The 2,453 yards he lost on sacks nearly negated the impact he made running. No doubt drawing on his own experience, he had a successful career as an NFL assistant coach after his playing days ended.

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