Did You Know that Demarcus Lawrence Set a Record* This Year?

Demarcus Lawrence set a record* this year! Did you realize that?

160. That's the number of "sack yards" Demarcus Lawrence tallied with his 14.5 sacks in 2017, according to ESPN. The number didn't mean much to me when I saw it on that page, until I noticed that Chandler Jones was second in the NFL with a firmly trailing 113 sack yards. This, in spite of the fact that Jones managed 2.5 more sacks than Lawrence. That, in spite of the fact that nobody else cracked 100 sack yards in 2007. Hmm...

Now I had to explore! So I began clicked through previous seasons, all the way through 2004 (when I saw that ESPN's data no longer included "Sack Yards"). What did I find? Let's tally up the results and see:

Demarcus Lawrence DAL 2017 14.5 160
Jared Allen MIN 2011 22 151
Robert Quinn LAR 2013 19 145
Aldon Smith SF 2012 19.5 145
J.J. Watt HOU 2014 20.5 140
J.J. Watt HOU 2012 20.5 139
Von Miller DEN 2012 18.5 130
Elvis Dumervil BAL 2014 17 128
DeMarcus Ware DAL 2011 19.5 125
Robert Mathis IND 2013 19.5 121
J.J. Watt HOU 2015 17.5 118
Trent Cole PHI 2009 12.5 117
James Harrison PIT 2008 16 115
Trevor Pryce BAL 2006 13 114
Chandler Jones ARI 2017 17 113
DeMarcus Ware DAL 2008 20 113
Jason Pierre-Paul NYG 2011 16.5 112
DeMarcus Ware DAL 2010 15.5 111
DeMarcus Ware DAL 2007 14 111
Jared Allen KC 2007 15.5 111
John Abraham ATL 2008 16.5 110
Robert Mathis IND 2005 11.5 110

That's the full list of 110+ Sack Yard seasons from 2005 to 2017, and Lawrence leads the pack. Not only that, but for anyone with 120 or more yards, not a one managed to do it with fewer than 17 sacks, and yet Lawrence pulled the trick with just 14.5.

In fact, it gets even better. Take every player with a top 10 Sack Yards season for a give year over this period and determine their "Sack Yards Per Sack", and Lawrence tops that list too with 11.0! Next up are a couple of 10.4 seasons, and just six seasons crack 9.0. Also of note is that there is a clear linear relationship between sack totals and yards per sack; the more sacks you have in a season, the harder to put up a high Yards Per Sack figure (which makes sense, given that a greater sampling of sacks will generally lead to a regression to the mean for yards per sack).

If you don't quite follow that last part, here is a plot of the seasons cited (130 total seasons) of Total Sacks to Sack Yards Per Sack:
As you can see, every single point falls into a fairly tidy band around the line of best fit, with the range above the line being a bit higher than the range below the line. That is, every point but one - Lawrence's, hovering like a great deity above a mass of demigods (I couldn't call these excellent seasons "mere mortals", but what Lawrence has done is in a class of its own). How about that?

This "record" comes with a couple of caveats (hence the asterisk in the title and opening line of this post). First, Sack Yards aren't exactly an official NFL stat, so these figures come with a grain of salt. To counter that, keep in mind that modern NFL recordkeeping does a pretty good job of taking down information, so every sack comes with the yards lost on the play. The stat may be unofficial, but it looks accurate enough (I went back to the gamelogs on and tallied up Lawrence's sacks, and the figure seems just about correct, though it is likely +/- a few yards).

Second, just as how sacks themselves were not officially recognized as a statistic until the surprisingly late date of 1982 (leaving historic sack numbers incomplete), these figures only go back so long. That renders this more of a "local" record than an absolute one. It is reasonably likely that one of the guys near the top of the single-season sack record (my money is on Lawrence Taylor, but I wouldn't be surprised if Derrick Thomas or Mark Gastineau ended up on the top of the pile either) holds the "true" all-time record.

But until someone decides to take the time to comb through the play-by-play notes for the most likely candidates AND discovers a superior figure, Demarcus Lawrence is King of the Sack Yards Hill! Give the man a round of applause.

Or better yet, don't, and keep this close to the vest until Lawrence signs a contract extension. We don't need information making its way to his agent, right?

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