The NFL has not kept sacks as an official statistic for its entire 75-year existence. The league only started officially tracking the sack in 1982, which leaves out a ton of accomplished pass rushers in the modern (1960-present) era of professional football.
New research from Pro Football Researchers Association, published via Pro Football Reference, meticulously updates the sack records going back to 1960. It’s still not officially recognized by the NFL, but crediting sacks off game tape is pretty standard practice, and the PFRA has pored over the game film dating back to 1960 and updated the records.
And those records indicate that Lions defensive end Al “Bubba” Baker is the single-season sack master. Baker bagged 23 sacks in 1978, his rookie season. That figure eclipses the NFL’s official record set by Michael Strahan in 2001, when the Giants standout hit 22.5 sacks.
Baker was a featured performer in the famed “Silver Rush” defense, and he was the most prolific rusher in the NFL from 1978-1980. During those three seasons, Baker unofficially — but verifiably — notched seasons of 23, 16 and 17.5 sacks. He led the NFL in both 1978 and 1980, again unofficially but verifiably.
In five seasons with the Lions, Baker recorded 74 sacks. Alas, his final year in Detroit was 1982, the first year the league kept sacks as an officially recognized statistic.