Sacking the quarterback is harder than it used to be, which makes Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers’ totals all the more remarkable.
Peppers ranks fifth in NFL history with 143.5 sacks. And with Demarcus Ware and Robert Mathis retiring this offseason, and Dwight Freeney unsigned, Peppers is the only active player in the Top 20 in career sacks.
The four players ahead of Peppers on the all-time sack list — Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman — all started their careers in 1985. That year, NFL teams averaged 2.92 sacks per game. By the time Peppers entered the NFL, in 2002, sacks were down to 2.29 per team per game. By last year, sacks were down to 2.18 per team per game.
As rules changes have favored passing offenses, and NFL teams have prioritized protecting their quarterbacks, it’s become more difficult to get a sack. Bruce Smith’s career record of 200 sacks is almost certainly out of reach for the 37-year-old Peppers. And when Peppers retires, he may have a sack total that’s out of reach for any active player. Getting to the quarterback has never been harder, and players like Julius Peppers don’t come along very often.