There’s a plethora of different statistics by which to gauge quarterbacks and their performance (or lack thereof). From passing yards and touchdowns to completion percentage and quarterback rating, football fans have all kinds of metrics to use to help them determine which signal-callers are the best in a given season or over a career.
And then there are other figures which can indicate how poor a quarterback may be. The number of interceptions thrown in a game/season/career is certainly the most often-quoted, but losing percentage and lack of playoff appearances can also paint a less-than-stellar picture of a QB. Another one of these stats is sack percentage, which is defined as the number of sacks divided by sacks plus pass attempts. For example, if a quarterback throws 93 passes and gets sacked seven times, his sack percentage is 7% (7/[93+7]) = .o7).
Sack percentage is important because it’s not appropriate to judge the career success of a quarterback solely by the number of times he has been sacked in his career. As an example, the top two most-sacked quarterbacks in history based on the raw number of sacks are Brett Favre (525) and John Elway (516). Since only a total dolt would argue that these two men were bad quarterbacks, total sacks isn’t a very accurate metric.
But is sack percentage any better in determining the worth of an NFL quarterback? We’ll let you decide. Here is a list of the top ten quarterbacks with the highest career sack percentages, based on a minimum of 1500 career pass attempts.
10. Roger Staubach — Sack Percentage: 9.57%
Really? Roger Dodger? Hard to believe, but the Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys legend was sacked 9.57% of the times he dropped back to pass. In his 11-year career, Staubach was sacked 313 times, including a league-leading 45 times during the 1974 season (the only one in an 18-year span when Dallas failed to make the playoffs). Even though Staubach certainly gained yards and kept plays alive with his legs, he still fell victim to the sack an average of 2.38 times per game. Given his sackability, maybe it’s not surprising to learn that Staubach reportedly suffered about 20 concussions during his NFL career. And when you consider his familiarity with terra firma, it’s also no wonder that his successful post-football career was in… real estate.
9. Craig Morton — Sack Percentage: 9.62%
With a career sack percentage of 9.62% for the one-time teammate of Staubach, you may conclude that the Cowboys just didn’t have stellar pass protection in the 60s and 70s. Though there may be some truth to that assessment, Morton actually was on the receiving end of sacks more frequently in his years when he started for the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. As a Cowboy, Morton started 38 of 39 games in 1969, 1970, and 1972; during which he was sacked an average of 2.13 times each game. In his 2 1/2 years with the Giants, that sack-per-game average surged to 2.62 in 24 games, all but one of which he started. And in Denver, Morton was sacked about 2.74 times each contest in his 70 games (60 as a starter); including a league-leading 54 times in 1981, his last full year as a starter in the NFL.
8. Archie Manning — Sack Percentage: 9.81%
Insert your own “apple doesn’t fall far from the immobile tree” joke here. Throughout his career, Peyton and Eli‘s daddy was downed behind the line of scrimmage 9.81% of the time when he dropped back to pass. But when you spend the bulk of your career on a New Orleans Saints team that never recorded a winning record (much less a playoff appearance) during your tenure, it’s kind of a given that your sack numbers will be high. In fact, Manning was the most-sacked quarterback in three of his first five seasons in the NFL (1971, 1972, and 1975). If you’re wondering how he compares alongside his sons in this category, Eli is currently 14th on the all-time lowest sack percentage list at 4.79% That’s 13 spots below his big brother; Peyton is the all-time leader in lowest sack percentage at a measly 3.10%.
7. Len Dawson — Sack Percentage: 9.98%
The only other Hall of Famer on this list, Dawson’s sack percentage of 9.98% is skewed somewhat by the fact that sack statistics didn’t start being kept until 1969, which was his 14th season in the league. That was also the year that Dawson and co-signal caller Bobby Bell helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV, which still stands as the franchise’s only NFL title while in Kansas City. Dawson was known as a fairly mobile quarterback, succeeding well in head coach Hank Stram’s “moving pocket” offense.
6. Dave Brown — Sack Percentage: 9.97%
Who? Come on – you remember Brown, the ten-year NFLer who played for the New York Giants and the Arizona Cardinals from 1992 to 2001? The former Duke product was the first overall pick in the 1992 NFL Supplemental Draft, and actually got his first start in December of ’92 after injuries to Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler, and Kent Graham. He became the Giants’ full-time starter from 1994 to 1996; and during those years, he was sacked a whopping 2.87 times per game en route to a career sack percentage of 9.97%. Brown was signed by Arizona prior to the 1998 season, but only started seven games in a Cardinal uniform. Although his pro football numbers weren’t all that impressive, Brown has since built a successful career as an investment manager.
5. Randall Cunningham — Sack Percentage: 10.14%
You’d think that a man who has been called the “#3 mobile quarterback of all time” wouldn’t get sacked all that much. Boy, would you be wrong. Cunningham’s career sack percentage is 10.14%, but he spent the better parts of some seasons lying on the ground after a pass play was called. In fact, he was the most-sacked quarterback each season from 1986 to 1988 as a Philadelphia Eagle, including an astonishing mark of 72 sacks in ’86 despite starting only five games that year! That record stood for 16 years until it was eclipsed in 2002 by another entrant on this list. In fact, Cunningham is responsible for four of the top 25 single-season “sacked” performances in NFL history. His best year actually came in Minnesota in 1998, when he won 13 games as a starter for the Vikings – and was sacked only 20 times.
4. Tony Eason — Sack Percentage: 10.17%
Here’s another “Who’s he?” list entrant. Eason was a first-round pick out of Illinois by the New England Patriots in 1983, and was the Pats’ primary starter from ’84 to ’86. But he was never able to play a full season due to injuries, possibly from amassing a career sack percentage of 10.17%. In 1984, Eason was sacked an amazing 59 times, which puts him in the top 10 most-sacked seasons of all time. Interestingly enough, he also completed more than 60% of his passes that year – but led the league in interception percentage as well. Eason’s most infamous performance might be during Super Bowl XX, when he became the first starting quarterback in the big game to fail to complete a pass. He was replaced by Steve Grogan, but the Patriots still got trounced 46-10 by the Chicago Bears.
3. Neil Lomax — Sack Percentage: 10.30%
Like Archie Manning, Lomax toiled for a below-average team throughout his career, helming the St. Louis Cardinals from 1981 through 1987 and becoming the Phoenix Cardinals’ first starting QB in 1988. Sadly, the Portland State product didn’t have much of a chance to shine because he was getting sacked a mind-scrambling 3.35 times per game. For his career, Lomax sports a sack percentage of 10.30%, and he led the league in most times being turfed in the 1982 strike-shortened season. But he did propel the Cards to a playoff appearance that year, in which he completed 32 of 51 passes for 385 yards in a loss to Green Bay – though he was sacked five times (big shock!). Plus, the 61 times that Lomax was sacked in 1985 places him seventh on the all-time single-season sacked list. However, he wasn’t the most-sacked quarterback that season, finishing one behind Ken O’Brien of the New York Jets.
2. David Carr — Sack Percentage: 10.54%
You probably guessed this one right. The man who topped Randall Cunningham’s single-season most-sacked record with 76 sacks in 2002, Carr holds a career sacked percentage of 10.54%. During his first five years in the NFL when he was the Houston Texans’ inaugural starting quarterback, Carr led the league in most times sacked on three occasions and compiled an unbelievable 3.47 sacks-per-game average. Thankfully, he has only been sacked 18 times since limping out of Houston, though has only four starts to his credit (all of them with Carolina in 2007). Carr, who has also played with the Giants and 49ers, is still breathing today despite suffering injuries to his knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, back, and head during his career. So there’s that.
1. Greg Landry — Sack Percentage: 12.1%
You could say that Landry got sacked so often in his first 14 years in the NFL that he was chased all the way to the United States Football League (he spent 1983 with the Chicago Blitz and 1984 with the Arizona Wranglers). Of course, Landry never hesitated to tuck it and run, garnering over 2,600 rushing yards in his career. But again, the first-round pick out of Massachusetts in 1968 had the misfortune of spending most of his career with a subpar team in Detroit. Though he made one playoff appearance with the Lions in 1970 (a 5-0 loss to Dallas), Landry managed to spend a great deal of time picking grass out of his face mask, with an all-time most-sacked percentage of 12.1% – or almost one out of every eight times he dropped back to pass. Landry, who finished his career with the Baltimore Colts and Chicago Bears, was elected to the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. No, we are not making that up.