The Vikings faithful are generally pretty assured that Minnesota great Jared Allen will get into the Hall of Fame. 76 percent of KFAN voters felt he'd get in—with a fifth of those voting of the opinion he'd get in on the first ballot.
Reaction to his retirement seemed surprisingly tepid to me, though. I mean, everyone loved his interpretation of riding into the sunset, but not many seemed assured of his place in history. I've been asked about his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, and it feels like many of those asking don't understand the impact that Allen had.
To some extent, this article is unnecessary. The idea that Jared Allen might not be a Hall of Famer is kind of preposterous to me and wasn't something I had remotely considered to be a discussion until I saw conversations pop up about whether or not he belongs there.
Obviously, not everyone who makes the Hall is a no-conversation lock, so it's not an insult to have the question asked of a player—it just caught me by surprise.
But inviting the discussion begets the idea that there's another rational, reasonable argument against putting him in. There's a piece titled "Is Jared Allen a Borderline Hall of Famer?", which is not just an odd way of phrasing it, but kind of jarring.
Most every piece of media out there asking the question of his candidacy ultimately conclude that he deserves a bust in Canton, but it feels like they come to this realization after going over what they forgot about him. Hopefully, I can make the case obvious enough.
To me, the question is "what level of acclaim within the Hall of Fame does Jared Allen deserve," not "does he deserve to get into the Hall of Fame."
It's clear to me that Allen isn't in what you may call the "inner circle" of edge rushers, a group probably only comprised of Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Gino Marchetti, Lawrence Taylor and Deacon Jones. But I do think that a lot of folks underrate someone who should be considered in the second tier—with players like Jack Youngblood and Michael Strahan.
That's probably bold to many people, and it would squarely move the conversation from "does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame" to "does he deserve to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer?" (the answer, so much as you believe there's extra value in being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, is still no).
The second or third tier of any position group is an odd place to occupy with regards to the HOF conversation. Terrell Owens is in that first tier, along with Randy Moss and Jerry Rice, but wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That's a conversation for another time, but while he was probably one of the five most deserving candidates this year, there's more that goes into (fairly or unfairly) into the voting conversation than that.
After that, there's the dreaded receiver backlog of players from the 90s, all of whom occupied the second or third tier—players like Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed.
For pass-rushers in particular, the conversation is a little interesting because there's no clearly poor case of inclusion to prop a candidate up against, like there is for other positions—and for running backs, there are multiple, like Doak Walker, Paul Hornung, Gale Sayers or Floyd Little (the first three, of course, deserve recognition, but it's not the College Hall of Fame; that already exists).
The closest is perhaps Andre Tippett, whose career 100 sacks don't really speak well for him from the perspective of having a Hall of Fame case (similar production without the HOF qualification: Ezra Johnson, William Fuller, George Andrie, Tony McGee and Simon Fletcher), but it's not as if Tippett is obviously undeserving.
Still, it seems pretty clear that Allen is better than Tippett was, whose Hall of Fame case relies on nuance more than statistics. As a strong-side outside linebacker, he was asked to rush the passer less than his NFC counterpart, Lawrence Taylor, was and many claim Tippett was regarded at a level nearly to Taylor's, at least for a losing team in the AFC.
I'm not entirely sure that remained the case for a long period of time, as he made five fewer Pro Bowls and made six fewer AP All-Pro teams, but he was pretty clearly one of the two best rush linebackers for a solid three-year stretch (though the AP did not vote him to the 1986 All-Pro team, two of the other three notable organizations did). His peak is among the best there was.
In counting stats, Allen is ahead—with 36 more sacks (in only one more season), 5 more interceptions, 18 more forced fumbles and four more safeties. He also drew more consistent acclaim, it seems, from voters, with four more first-team AP All-Pro appearances. Allen had more longevity and a better peak than Tippett and that should help his case significantly.
I'm not sure it's a good precedent to test worthiness for the Hall by comparing a player to the worst included candidate, but Jared holds his own against a great number of HOF players at his position.
All that aside, I don't want to make the case for Allen as a Hall of Fame player worthy of the vote of sportswriters, but as a player who deserves to be mentioned with the all-time greats. I want to shift the discussion from whether or not Allen is better than Andre Tippett or Charles Haley to whether or not he's better than Michael Strahan, Jack Youngblood or Doug Atkins.
Initially, it's pretty tempting to say that Jared ranks ninth all time in sacks and that should settle the debate. After all, there are some 22 edge-rushers (depending on how you count the pre-1960 players) in the Hall of Fame, and ranking ninth all-time (eighth among edge-rushers) is pretty solid.
There is an obvious, dumb, caveat: the NFL and Elias Sports Bureau do not count sacks before 1982. Players like Lawrence Taylor and Rickey Jackson get stiffed by a year, and some of the greats, like Deacon Jones and Alan Page, have none of their sacks counted.
So to say ninth all-time is really to say ninth since 1982, which still puts Allen in good company. No eligible players have more sacks and are missing from the Hall, and there are 11 players with fewer official sacks in the Hall; five of them were primarily edge rushers (Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson, Derrick Thomas, Charles Haley and Andre Tippett).
Plus, of active players, he retires as the sack leader, tied with Julius Peppers with 136.0.
But because the Hall is a historical enshrinement process, let's see if we can do our best to put Allen's career in the context of history.
Last October, I wrote an ode to Alan Page, the greatest defensive tackle to play the game. In it, I detailed some of the statistical work that John Turney did to update the sack list all the way back to 1960. The process is described below:
The integrity of that data isn't great, but occasionally there are instances of individuals or organizations going to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of such data. One of those people is John Turney, who was committed to the art of the sack and found it a tragedy that some of the greatest pass rushers in history weren't counted among the greats because of the NFL's (and Elias Sports Bureau's) reluctance to go back and count sacks from before 1982.
So he decided that he would do it.
While initially an individual project, he eventually enlisted the support of many others, including the Pro Football Researcher's Association, NFL teams and NFL Films. He went over old game film, newspaper microfilm and media guides to confirm and many times change team sack counts. Deacon Jones, a huge supporter of the project for obvious reasons, had his apocryphal 26-sack season reduced to 22 by Turney because Jones was counting sacks in postseason games as well. Coy Bacon's 26-sack season would also be 21.5 because Bacon was counting half-sacks as full sacks.
I've updated it to include 2015 numbers. The top 102:
|#1||Bruce Smith||200||Yes||#35||Greg Townsend||109.5||No||#69||Fred Dean||93||Yes|
|#2||Reggie White||198||Yes||#36||Andy Robustelli||109||Yes||#70||Merlin Olsen||92||Yes|
|#3||Deacon Jones||173.5||Yes||#37||Mark Gastineau||107.5||No||#71||Howie Long||91.5||Yes|
|#4||Kevin Greene||160||Yes||#37||Pat Swilling||107.5||No||#72||Trevor Pryce||91||No|
|#5||Jack Youngblood||150.5||Yes||#39||Terrell Suggs||106.5||Ineligible||#73||Verlon Biggs||90.5||No|
|#5||Chris Doleman||150.5||Yes||#40||Ed Jones||106||No||#74||Bryant Young||89.5||No|
|#7||Alan Page||148.5||Yes||#40||Trace Armstrong||106||No||#75||Ken Harvey||89||No|
|#8||Lawrence Taylor||142||Yes||#42||Elvin Bethea||105||Yes||#76||Trent Cole||88.5||Ineligible|
|#9||Michael Strahan||141.5||Yes||#43||Neil Smith||104.5||No||#77||Leonard Little||87.5||No|
|#10||Jason Taylor||139.5||Ineligible||#43||Kevin Carter||104.5||No||#78||Justin Smith||87||
|#11||Richard Dent||137.5||Yes||#45||Dexter Manley||103.5||No||#78||John Zook||87||No|
|#11||John Randle||137.5||Yes||#46||Fred Dryer||103||No||#80||Tamba Hali||86||Ineligible|
|#13||Jared Allen||136||Ineligible||#46||Jack Gregory||103||No||#80||Willie McGinest||86||No|
|#13||Julius Peppers||136||Ineligible||#48||Jim Jeffcoat||102.5||No||#82||Osi Umenyiora||85||No|
|#13||Rickey Jackson||136||Yes||#49||Tommy Hart||101||No||#83||Eddie Edwards||84.5||No|
|#16||DeMarcus Ware||134.5||Ineligible||#50||Charles Haley||100.5||Yes||#83||Diron Talbert||84.5||No|
|#17||Carl Eller||133.5||Yes||#50||William Fuller||100.5||No||#85||Greg Ellis||84||No|
|#17||John Abraham||133.5||Ineligible||#52||Ezra Johnson||100||No||#86||Leonard Marshall||83.5||No|
|#19||Claude Humphrey||132.5||Yes||#52||Andre Tippett||100||Yes||#86||La'Roi Glover||83.5||No|
|#19||Leslie O'Neal||132.5||No||#54||Joey Porter||98||Ineligible||#88||Charles Mann||83||No|
|#21||Coy Bacon||130||No||#55||Simon Fletcher||97.5||No||#89||Patrick Kerney||82.5||No|
|#21||Al Baker||130||No||#56||George Andrie||97||No||#89||Wayne Martin||82.5||No|
|#23||Jim Marshall||127||No||#57||Warren Sapp||96.5||Yes||#89||Lee Williams||82.5||No|
|#24||Derrick Thomas||126.5||Yes||#57||Tony McGee||96.5||No||#92||Dan Hampton||82||Yes|
|#25||Cedrick Hardman||126||No||#59||Mario Williams||96||Ineligible||#92||L.C. Greenwood||82||No|
|#26||Simeon Rice||122||No||#59||Elvis Dumervil||96||Ineligible||#94||Shaun Phillips||81.5||Ineligible|
|#27||Clyde Simmons||121.5||No||#59||George Martin||96||No||#94||Jim Osborne||81.5||No|
|#28||Dwight Freeney||119.5||Ineligible||#62||Robert Porcher||95.5||No||#96||Tim Harris||81||No|
|#29||Robert Mathis||118||Ineligible||#62||Jethro Pugh||95.5||No||#96||Gary Johnson||81||No|
|#30||Jacob Green||116||No||#64||Steve McMichael||95||No||#98||Andre Carter||80.5||No|
|#31||Harvey Martin||114||No||#64||Jim Katcavage||95||No||#99||Hugh Douglas||80||No|
|#32||Sean Jones||113||No||#66||Carl Hairston||94.5||No||#99||Jason Gildon||80||No|
|#33||Lyle Alzado||112.5||No||#67||Bob Lilly||94||Yes||#101||Karl Mecklenberg||79||No|
|#34||Randy White||111||Yes||#68||Henry Thomas||93.5||No||#101||Chad Brown||79||No|
Are there any edge rushers outside of the top 99 with fewer than 80 sacks in the Hall of Fame? Yes, Lee Roy Selmon, who officially has 23.0 sacks and unofficially has 78.5 (numbers the Buccaneers provide)—he misses the cutoff above, and ranks 102nd behind Karl Mecklenberg and Chad Brown.
For a 3-4 end, that's actually quite good—though admittedly, statistically, not as strong as many others. In addition, Selmon has quite a resumé. Aside from being the first player the Bucs ever picked, he went to six consecutive Pro Bowls and was voted AP All-Pro three times, adding a Defensive Player of the Year award to his accolades in 1979—for leading a team with a putrid offense to be the best defense in the NFL, even getting to the NFC Championship game.
Allen dropping to 13th all-time after expanding the field back by 22 years isn't bad at all, and ranking 11th among Hall of Fame edge-rushers in sack totals is compelling.
Speaking of 22, his 22.0-sack season remains as one of the best of all time—even after including history's best seasons over the past 56 years, tying for second with Justin Houston, Mark Gastineau and Deacon Jones (twice). Of course, Jones did it in a 14-game season, and both Coy Bacon and Al Baker (21.5) had their highlight seasons in a 14-game NFL (not to mention, Deacon Jones' 21.5-sack 1967).
On the other hand, the same rule changes that moved the NFL from 14 games to 16 games significantly changed the pass protection principles for offensive linemen, making it much more difficult to sack the quarterback on each attempt after 1978. But there were fewer attempts per game before then anyway!
One can go down the rabbit hole when talking about these changes—the relative sizes of offensive and defensive linemen, banned techniques on both sides of the ball, the advancement of defensive technique over offensive technique, the innovations of various defensive coordinators and so on, but we can generally adjust for each of the factors by indexing each season against the number of attempts a typical team would face and how often quarterbacks were sacked.
So let's look at how Allen fared among the single-best seasons after adjusting for both the number of attempts and the ease of pass protection, with all numbers meant presented as if they came from the 2015 season:
|Rank||Player||Sacks||Year||Teams||Adj Sack Season|
So it looks like there hasn't been a better season for a pass-rusher since Jared Allen's 2011, and that year marked the best sack season in thirty years, since before sacks were introduced as an official statistic.
Jared Allen's 2011 stands as the single-best modern-era season for a pass-rusher.
Though singularly impressive for Allen, I don't think it's really fair to prop up one single season as punctuation to a resumé because atypical seasons happen constantly. Ezra Johnson's 20.5-sack season was astounding, but he only hit more than ten sacks once more in his 15-year career—14.5 in 1983. Jack Gregory's league-leading 18.5 sacks in 1972 earned him one of the only two Pro Bowl nods he would ever get.
And what's more is that we have other tools to measure what we're really trying to get at. We can also look at three-year peaks, which I think is a better measure of a pass-rusher's dominance in a short period of time. How many times have we seen a running back take the rushing yardage crown while the public (correctly) waits to mark him as the best running back in the league? How long did it take before analysts (tentatively) stopped ranking receivers by starting at #2 after Calvin Johnson? After all, Johnson only led the league in receiving in two different seasons.
It probably takes three dominant years before the public and analysts decide that the player in question is the best in the league. Even if one year grabs a statistical crown and the second comes close, a player may be left out of the conversation. After all, Odell Beckham is exciting, but the debate right now is functionally Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. 2013's league-leading touchdown scorer and yardage leader among tight ends, Jimmy Graham, didn't unseat Gronkowski's throne despite a fantastic 2014.
So to see whose real peak was best, I looked at the three-year peaks of every player to have 100 sacks or 100 adjusted sacks, plus every player who had at any point between now and 1960 led the league in sacks. For some players, I "extended" their peak a year or two if it improved their average-per-game to do so. Some players, like Allen, had multiple peaks to include, but I only included the best peak.
Though I couldn't get Norm Willey, Len Ford or Gino Marchetti, I was able to grab totals for Doug Atkins, so I included him as well. Kevin Williams was also a fun add, just to see where he ranked historically.
I ranked the players 1 to 89, after converting their peak into 2015 numbers:
|Rank||Player-Years||Sacks||Games||Sacks/48 Gms||2015 Equiv. Season|
|1||Al Baker (1978-1980)||54.5||47||55.7||20.3|
|2||Deacon Jones (1964-1968)||102.5||70||70.3||19.9|
|3||Jack Gregory (1970-1972)||44.5||42||50.9||18.6|
|4||J.J. Watt (2012-2014)||57||48||57.0||18.5|
|5||Fred Dean (1978-1981)||47.5||42||54.3||18.3|
|6||Michael Strahan (2001-2003)||52||48||52.0||17.4|
|7||Reggie White (1986-1988)||57||44||62.2||17.3|
|8||Jared Allen (2007-2011)||77.5||78||47.7||17.3|
|9||DeMarcus Ware (2008-2011)||66||64||49.5||16.9|
|10||Carl Eller (1975-1977)||44||42||50.3||16.7|
|11||Jack Youngblood (1973-1975)||46.5||42||53.1||16.7|
|12||Bruce Smith (1988-1990)||44||43||49.1||16.7|
|13||Claude Humphrey (1973-1976)||37.5||41||43.9||16.0|
|14||Jim Katcavage (1961-1963)||50||42||57.1||15.7|
|15||Simeon Rice (2002-2004)||42.5||48||42.5||15.7|
|16||Derrick Thomas (1990-1992)||48||47||49.0||15.6|
|17||Alan Page (1974-1976)||42||42||48.0||15.4|
|18||Mark Gastineau (1983-1985)||54.5||48||54.5||15.2|
|19||Doug Atkins (1962-1964)||43||42||49.1||14.8|
|20||Coy Bacon (1976-1978)||42||42||48.0||14.7|
|21||Derrick Burgess (2005-2007)||35||46||36.5||14.7|
|22||Lawrence Taylor (1986-1988)||48||40||57.6||14.6|
|23||Andre Tippett (1984-1987)||57||56||48.9||14.6|
|24||Jim Marshall (1967-1969)||32||42||36.6||14.4|
|25||Neil Smith (1992-1994)||41||46||42.8||14.4|
|26||Jethro Pugh (1968-1970)||42||39||51.7||14.3|
|27||Robert Mathis (2011-2013)||37||44||40.4||13.9|
|28||Tommy Hart (1972-1976)||65.5||84||37.4||13.9|
|29||Jason Taylor (2000-2002)||41.5||48||41.5||13.8|
|30||William Fuller (1994-1996)||35.5||46||37.0||13.8|
|31||Simon Fletcher (1991-1993)||43||48||43.0||13.8|
|32||Fred Dryer (1973-1975)||37||42||42.3||13.7|
|33||Verlon Biggs (1971-1973)||38||41||44.5||13.6|
|34||Ezra Johnson (1978-1980)||35.5||42||40.6||13.6|
|35||Kevin Greene (1988-1990)||46||48||46.0||13.5|
|36||Pat Swilling (1989-1991)||44.5||48||44.5||13.5|
|37||Dwight Freeney (2003-2005)||38||47||38.8||13.5|
|38||Richard Dent (1984-1987)||58.5||59||47.6||13.3|
|39||Shawne Merriman (2005-2007)||40||42||45.7||13.2|
|40||Leslie O'Neal (1992-1994)||41.5||47||42.4||13.1|
|41||Von Miller (2012-2014)||37.5||41||43.9||13.1|
|42||George Andrie (1964-1966)||45.5||42||52.0||13.0|
|43||Cedrick Hardman (1971-1975)||57.5||70||39.4||13.0|
|44||Elvis Dumervil (2009-2014)||64||77||39.9||12.9|
|45||Andy Robustelli (1960-1962)||36||40||43.2||12.9|
|46||Michael Sinclair (1996-1998)||41.5||48||41.5||12.9|
|47||Rickey Jackson (1991-1993)||38.5||48||38.5||12.7|
|48||Ken Harvey (1993-1995)||35||48||35.0||12.7|
|49||Dexter Manley (1984-1986)||47||47||48.0||12.6|
|50||Joey Porter (2007-2009)||32||48||32.0||12.6|
|51||Elvin Bethea (1973-1976)||47.5||56||40.7||12.5|
|52||Mario Williams (2012-2014)||38||48||38.0||12.3|
|53||Lee Roy Selmon (1977-1979)||35||44||38.2||12.3|
|54||Randy White (1976-1978)||35||44||38.2||12.2|
|55||Chris Doleman (1987-1992)||72.5||92||37.8||12.2|
|56||Robert Porcher (1997-1999)||39||47||39.8||12.2|
|57||Lyle Alzado (1972-1974)||35||42||40.0||12.2|
|58||Clyde Simmons (1989-1992)||55||64||41.3||12.1|
|59||Bryce Paup (1993-1995)||36||46||37.6||12.0|
|60||Doug Martin (1981-1983)||30.5||41||35.7||11.9|
|61||Tony McGee (1977-1979)||36.5||46||38.1||11.9|
|62||Kevin Carter (1998-2000)||39.5||48||39.5||11.6|
|63||John Randle (1994-1997)||51||64||38.3||11.6|
|64||Charles Haley (1988-1990)||38||48||38.0||11.4|
|65||John Abraham (2010-2013)||44||62||34.1||11.4|
|66||Jacob Green (1983-1985)||42.5||48||42.5||11.3|
|67||Greg Ellis (2006-2008)||25||38||31.6||11.3|
|68||La'Roi Glover (1998-2000)||35.5||48||35.5||11.1|
|69||Trace Armstrong (1998-2000)||34.5||48||34.5||10.9|
|70||Terrell Suggs (2003-2005)||30.5||48||30.5||10.8|
|71||Harvey Martin (1976-1978)||33.5||44||36.5||10.7|
|72||Julius Peppers (2008-2012)||55.5||80||33.3||10.7|
|73||Sean Jones (1990-1993)||44||63||33.5||10.6|
|74||Greg Townsend (1989-1991)||36||48||36.0||10.5|
|75||Gary Johnson (1975-1981)||36||48||36.0||10.5|
|76||Trevor Pryce (1998-2000)||33.5||46||35.0||10.3|
|77||Joe Greene (1972-1974)||24||42||27.4||10.2|
|78||Bob Lilly (1965-1967)||34.5||42||39.4||10.0|
|79||Bryant Young (1998-2000)||30||43||33.5||9.9|
|80||Merlin Olsen (1968-1970)||28.5||42||32.6||9.8|
|81||Carl Hairston (1978-1980)||29||47||29.6||9.4|
|82||Warren Sapp (1998-2000)||36||48||36.0||9.3|
|83||Henry Thomas (1993-1995)||26.5||45||28.3||9.2|
|84||Howie Long (1983-1985)||35||48||35.0||9.1|
|85||Steve McMichael (1987-1989)||26||44||28.4||9.0|
|86||Jim Jeffcoat (1984-1986)||37.5||48||37.5||8.8|
|87||Kevin Williams (2003-2005)||25.5||46||26.6||8.8|
|88||George Martin (1979-1981)||26||48||26.0||8.7|
|89||Ed Jones (1985-1987)||28.5||48||28.5||8.0|
Allen appears eighth on this list, which demonstrates better than a single-season list why he wasn't just "very good" but utterly crushing during his time—averaging the equivalent of over 17 sacks over that period.
You might also notice that Allen's "peak" runs five years, tied for fourth-longest with Deacon Jones, Cedrick Hardman and Julius Peppers (tied for first with a six-year run were Tommy Hart, Elvis Dumervil and Chris Doleman, none of whom cracked the top 25).
Had you split Allen's five-year run into two three-year runs (2007-2009 and 2009-2011), the first would rank in exactly the same spot—eighth in all of history. The second would rank 14th. If you don't want him to have two "peaks" that overlap, a 2010-2012 "peak" would rank 22nd in history.
Think about that: his second-best set of three years ranks 22nd in the past 56 seasons among all-time rushers.
Allen's inclusion on the single-season list is great, but he isn't on that top-thirty list more than once, like Watt, Jones, Strahan and Ware. Even peaking very well isn't enough, as Claude Humphrey can attest. While I've demonstrated that Allen's obviously not a one-hit wonder (and don't think many would call him that), it does touch on a debate that almost always happens when discussing the greatness of a career.
There are generally two ways to look at potential Hall of Fame inductees and their performance—performance at their peak and performance over a career. For a lot of people, nothing captures this better than the debate between Jerome Bettis' inclusion into the Hall of Fame and Terrell Davis' (as-of-now) exclusion. Davis was unquestionably the best running back in football (or, for those who overemphasize the impact of zone-blocking, the best-performing running back) for three years.
Jerome... was not. He did end up with two All-Pro seasons, but not only were they five years apart, he only had one season above 1500 yards rushing while never leading the league in any category except attempts. Nevertheless, he ranks sixth in total rushing yards and has been enshrined in the Hall.
One way to help resolve the debate is to give players more credit for peak seasons and less credit for worse seasons, often a result of player decline, rookie adjustment or injury. If Peyton Manning grabs another 5,000 yards by Fitzpatricking his way into playing a lot as a career backup, should that really be the kind of tiebreaker it usually is when comparing careers? Alternately, if he doesn't retire but plays in more games regardless, should his career passer rating be used to judge him?
We generally want to look for a combination of longevity and high-level performance. Voters (or those roleplaying as voters) will often ask "was he ever the best in the league?" when talking about players, and follow it up with a question about whether they should have had more yards, touchdowns and so on.
No one really cares that Vinny Testaverde ranks ninth in total passing yardage, because he was never one of the best players at his position. To the other extreme, Ezra Johnson isn't making the hall of fame based on one elite season (or more precisely, one elite season, one good season and the occasional starting-quality season).
To help resolve the competing demands for peak performance and longevity, we can implement the same system Pro-Football-Reference does when measuring careers.
They have an Approximate Value metric that gives players position-blind points for how well they and their team did in a season (taking into account every box score statistic as well as postseason awards, and weights them according to how much they contribute individually to wins) and they have a modified accumulated version to evaluate a career that meets the two demands—they count 100% of a player's AV in their best year, 95% in their next-best year, 90% in their third-best year and on-down the line.
Among edge players in Career AV (CAV), Allen ranks 16th all-time, right behind Jack Youngblood and Derrick Thomas, ahead of Jim Marshall, Richard Dent and Kevin Greene. Because we're doing this with historic sacks, we may as well apply the same 100-95-90-etc method to career sacks.
In this way, Ezra Johnson's years of accumulating mediocre seasons don't count nearly as much for him while Al Baker's stunning beginning gets the limelight it deserves. At the same time, we shouldn't discount entirely the ability to play for a long time—if two players accumulate 50 sacks in 4 years, and one of them retires while the second has four years of somewhat productive play, then the second player's career is better. To that extent, we're not punishing Bruce Smith for his 19-year career because of how consistent he was throughout it, with 13 of his seasons reaching double-digit sack totals.
Consider two players who both have 50 sacks. Player A earned them over 5 seasons, with 15, 13, 11, 6 and 5 sacks while Player B earned them over 5 seasons with 10 sacks in each season. Most people (but not all) would probably say Player A had a better career, but not by a lot. That's the same conclusion this system finds, with 46.3 career-adjusted sacks to 45 career-adjusted sacks.
A more extreme example: one player has seasons of 20, 14.5, 7.5, 4.5 and 3.5 sacks while the other continues to produce 10 sacks. 20 sacks is considerable, and a much more difficult accomplishment in one season than 15, and many times more difficult than ten. Player A gets more credit for those than Player B does in getting the same number of sacks over two seasons. In this case, "A" has 47.2 adjusted sacks.
We can do that to every player's career (at least every player who had significant playing time after 1960) and balance the long-career compilers and the short-career dazzlers. We already also know how to adjust a player's sack total for their era, so we'll do that as well. Finally, because the 100-95-90-etc system reduces the sack numbers to something unfamiliar (Bruce Smith's gets adjusted down to 161 after era and CAV adjustments), we'll modify the totals one more time to look like what we expect career sack totals to look like (200 for Bruce Smith, 198 for Reggie White, 160 for Kevin Greene, etc.).
Here are the players with 100 or more adjusted sacks, after taking into account league averages and opposing pass attempts:
You can quibble with the interior/edge designations, but it is what it is. Bruce Smith was a "3-4 end," but got nearly all of his sacks from the outside shoulder of the tackle or wider. Same with Reggie White. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if I got a few of these designations incorrect.
At any rate, there's Jared Allen ranking seventh of all pass-rushers since 1960.
If you tweak the system to be friendlier to longevity, he ranks eighth. If you tweak it to double-count a player's best three years, he ranks seventh.
Jared Allen is the picture of consistent, high-level play and he's one of the best history has to offer.
That list could be a pretty good ranking of those players with some notable exceptions. I don't think many doubt that Lawrence Taylor should occupy a top five spot and that Kevin Greene should be moved down the list. That's a fine distinction, but by an large I think it's a very good list for measuring sack production.
So, do I think Jared Allen—who ranks above Lawrence Taylor in (official) sack production, peak sack production and adjusted career sack production—is a better player than LT? Not remotely—not even close—but I do think he had better career sack production; he generated more sacks when they were harder to produce.
Obviously sacks are also not the only measure of an edge-rusher's worth. Even the bombastic popularizer of the term, Deacon Jones, thinks there's too much emphasis put on the statistic. And he's perhaps the most bitter about the NFL's staunch reluctance to go back and count sacks before 1982.
Sacks are nice, but Deacon will tell you it's the every-down impact you can have.
"This thing is not about sacks, it's about pressure on the passer,'' Jones said. "The quarterback in my time and this time only responds to pressure. You can sack him seven times and he can beat you by 40 points. That's only seven plays. It's a consistency of the pressure you put on him that causes problems. You got to hit him. You got to let him know, ‘I'm in your area, sucker, I missed you this time but I'm going to get you next time.' ''
To the extent that we have data, Allen did an astounding job creating pressure with the Vikings, not just sacks. And he was diverse in that capacity, too. Pro Football Focus has been tracking quarterback pressures since 2007 and in that span he has had more quarterback pressures than any other player at any position.
In his time with Minnesota—2008 to 2013—he had at least 65 quarterback pressures in each season and in his 100 games with the Vikings (including the playoffs), he had 429 total pressures, averaging 71.5 pressures a year. His minimum over that time, 65, ranks 10th in total pressures in any single year and his total ranks first.
That is the definition of having consistent, high-level play.
Pro Football Focus also found that Allen was equally adept at running outside, inside or through the tackle he was lined up against. Between 2008 and 2013, he's always ranked in the top five in generating pressure on either the outside or the inside of the tackle, switching sides from season to season—and between 2011 and 2012 ranked in the top ten of outside pressures and fourth in inside pressures.
Pressures and sacks aside, he leads all active non-quarterbacks in fumbles recovered—in big part due to his 32 forced fumbles. If you count forced fumbles as half-turnovers (because either team can recover) and interceptions as full turnovers, that means he himself has 26 including the four safeties.
Given that he has the NFL record for career safeties with four, it shouldn't be a surprise that he ranks seventh since 1981 (when PFR first has forced fumbles) in turnovers forced among pass rushers.
The only standardized pass-deflection stats come after the NFL implemented them in 2001, but Allen ranks fourth of all defensive linemen in total pass deflections with 58—combined with his sacks, that ranks third of all pass stops.
That's a pretty incredible list of accomplishments. Seventh in turnovers forced since 1981 and third in pass disruptions (sacks plus deflections) since 2001.
And what about the run game? Cedrick Hardman has only ten fewer sacks but won't sniff the Hall of Fame in big part because of his massive deficiencies against the run—sportswriters even went so far to call his assignment Cedrick Alley.
Jim Marshall's struggles against Kansas City's run game in Super Bowl IV are the stuff of legends, and are a big part of his exclusion from the Hall.
Kevin Greene was kept out of Canton for quite a while in part because of his reputation against the run, fair or unfair.
Jared Allen has been pretty good against the run, particularly during his peak. It's easy to remember 2013 Jared Allen getting pushed around and creating run lanes, but his career has shown remarkable versatility.
Between 2005 and 2015, his time in the league, only two other defensive linemen have more tackles for loss in the run game—Trent Cole and J.J. Watt. Since 1994, he ranks 9th of all edge rushers in tackles for loss in the run game. Combined with the TFLs in the passing game, he ranks second behind Jason Taylor.
He held runners going to the left side a full half-yard shorter than league average in that direction (4.66 yards a carry) over his career with Kansas City and the Minnesota Vikings.
In fairness, I said he was good—not great—against the run. His average PFF grade (by year) against the run with Minnesota was -1.7, which is fundamentally average in their system. His third down run defense rate was a little below average both in success rate and in creating TFLs.
But on the whole, he was better against the run than he wasn't, and his list of accomplishments overall run long.
Jared Allen stands as one of the best edge defenders in NFL history. That the immediate memory of him is that he was "largely pretty good" is mind-boggling to me. The question isn't "does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame" but when he deserves to get in. The answer is sooner rather than later.
Might as well finish this with highlights and quotes from one of the most interesting and intriguing figures in recent football history.
Allen on whether the locker room is experiencing a schism.
"I don't know where this came from. Like I said, I don't think anybody on this team knows what schism is, let alone could use it in a sentence. I thought it was an STD when I first heard it. And I was like whoa, we preach abstinence around these parts."
"The mullet isn't just a hairdo, it's a lifestyle. You carry it on like a legacy, like your last name, you know. The people that did this in the 80s, they weren't doing it because they thought it was a cool hairdo. No, they were doing it because they were bad ass. You know if someone asks if you want extra mayonaise, you have to say yes. Cause that's part of it. If the easy way is to walk around something, you walk through it. This is bringing back like the Paul Bunyan. Men, we don't shave our legs. We have chest hair, even if it is shaped like a heart, which is pretty tight. That's the whole lifestyle of the mullet. I approach you from the front and you're kinda like ‘wow this dude's pretty serious,' then I walk away and you're like ‘damn he likes to party with two R's.'"
"I don't like going to Detroit. I'll be honest, it's gloomy, it sucks. Everything is brown and then there is snow on the ground. There's like brownstones everywhere and I'm like, ‘Awesome.' I don't know, I couldn't do it. If I had to live in Detroit, I think I'd just drown myself in the river that was across the way."
On Adrian Peterson:
"That dude, I was just watching him run at minicamp, and that dude has got muscles on top of muscles, and he eats like two quarts of Cold Stone a day. I have one bite of pizza and I put 13 pounds on. It's just ridiculous. This guy's got two percent body fat, shredded. I'm leaving my shirt on at the pool. It sucks."
On if teams are blocking him differently:
"No. They're still using human beings."
Jared Allen is hilarious and super fun. I'll have fun remembering him if only for that. But I don't want it to get lost in all this one fact: No one in his generation of pass rushers created sacks as well as he did, and no one's peak production was so long or consistent.
Jared Allen is one of the best edge defenders in history.