Let's take a quick look at where the top sack guys in 2008 might finish this season, using history as a guide.
DeMarcus Ware finished last season with 20 sacks, joining Michael Strahan, Mark Gastineau, Chris Doleman, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas as the only players to reach that number since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
Those guys averaged 13.2 sacks the following season, with all of them recording at least 11 sacks. So while we should expect some regression for Ware, looking at the guys he has joined, he's a pretty solid bet to record a healthy sack total again. But that's a really small sample size. Let's expand it out to all guys that have recorded 16.0 or more sacks in a single season since 1982--that brings our total up to 43 total seasons. That group was 27 years old on average, recorded 17.7 sacks in their high sack season, and dropped back to 10.4 sacks the following season.
Only five players have recorded at least 16 sacks in consecutive seasons-- Reggie White, twice (1986, 1987(!), and 1988), Mark Gastineau (1983, 1984), Richard Dent (1984, 1985), Andre Tippett (1984, 1985), and Kevin Greene (1988, 1989).
Ware wasn't the only player added to this list from last season, as John Abraham, Joey Porter and James Harrison also recorded at least 16 sacks. There is a big difference, though, between Ware and the other three--namely, their age. Ware is entering his prime as a pass rusher, as he was 26 last season. 27 of the 43 seasons of 16+ sacks were turned in by players between ages 26-28.
On the other hand, Abraham (30), Porter (31) and Harrison (30) are among the oldest high sack guys since 1982. Only six other players recorded 16 sacks or more at age 29 or older: Michael Strahan, twice (ages 30 and 32), Michael Sinclair (age 30), Simon Fletcher (age 30), Fred Dean (age 31), Trace Armstrong (age 35), and Reggie White (age 37). Not surprisingly, this group did not maintain their performance the following season as well. Here are the sack averages the following season, sorted by age:
Age No. Sacks, Yr N Sacks, Yr N+1 ============================================================ 24 or under 4 17.6 13.5 25 to 26 14 17.3 12.2 27 to 28 19 18.1 9.7 29 or older 6 17.9 6.5 ============================================================
Of course, we probably shouldn't include two guys that were age 35 or older in trying to evaluate what James, Joey and John are going to do this season. Lowering the limit down to at least 13.0 sacks in a season, we have 43 seasons turned in by guys from age 29-32. This group averaged 14.4 sacks in Year N and got 8.2 the next season, so ended up a year later with about 57% of their previous total on average.
When I look at that list, I see a lot of seasons turned in by the likes of Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor that pull the year N+1 average up. I'm not sure if the three 30 somethings from 2008 match up with those names, so I'm going to shade them a little lower. I'll put an over/under on DeMarcus Ware of 12.5 sacks in 2009, and an over/under of 8 sacks for Abraham, Harrison and Porter.
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