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Are all career defensive records in the NFL unbreakable?

NFL defensive records

Records are meant to be broken, right? Well maybe not in the National Football League.

Since its inaugural season in 1920, the NFL has seen countless defensive records broken, most recently in 2012 when Ed Reed broke Rod Woodson’s record for career interception return yards. After looking at all of the current records, I thought it would be fun to see which records will be broken next, and which will remain untouched.

With the continuous decline in the average career length of players, it seems that many career defensive records may stand the test of time. According to Statista.com, the average NFL player’s career is just 3.3 years, and a player with at least one Pro Bowl selection is 11.7.

After looking at each defensive record, i’ve found that each record holder spent at least 13-years in the NFL and started a minimum of 169 games. There are only four active defensive players in the NFL that have served such a tenure, hence why these career records continue to stand.

Career Interceptions

NFL defensive records
Paul Krause is a Hall of Fame defensive back who played for the Washington Redskins (1964-67) and Minnesota Vikings (1968-79). (Photo by christopherapage.com)

Career leader: Paul Krause (81)

Active leader: DeAngelo Hall (43)

Krause is a Hall of Fame defensive back who played for the Washington Redskins (1964-67) and Minnesota Vikings (1968-79). Over his 16-year career, he had 81 interceptions, including two seasons with double-digits, which is something that no active player has even done once. What makes this even more impressive is that he played during an era where NFL teams played 14-game seasons, opposed to 16.

The NFL’s active leader in career interceptions is DeAngelo Hall, who is expected to make his return to the field this Sunday for the Washington Redskins. In his 14-year career, he has amassed 43 interceptions. The most he amassed in a season was six, which was a mark he reached twice (2005, 2010). Hall’s career is coming to a close, and he stands no chance of reaching 81 interceptions. So are there any other active players that can eventually catch Krause?

Not likely. Richard Sherman has the most interceptions for a player under 30 years old with 32 in 103 games. Sherman is unlikely to reach this mark as he has only eight interceptions in his last 39 games, opposed to the 16 interceptions he had across a 32-game span from 2012-13.

A decrease in Sherman’s interception totals may be correlated to his increasing reputation as one of the leagues lockdown corners. Quarterbacks won’t throw the ball to Sherman’s man enough for him to come anywhere close to Kraus.

The young defensive back that stands any chance to match Kraus’ interception totals is Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs. Peters has played in only 39 games, but has already totaled 17 interceptions. If he continues his 0.44 interception per game pace for another decade, he would pass Krause in his 13th season.

Only time will tell if Peters has what it takes, although one can assume that quarterbacks will stop throwing the ball to his side as his lockdown reputation continues to develop.

Career Interception return yards

Career leader: Ed Reed (1,590)

Active leader: DeAngelo Hall (838)

According to the New York Times, New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick referred to Ed Reed as “the best weak safety (he’s) seen since (he’s) been in the National Football League.” He added, “Every time you break the huddle, that’s who you’re looking at.”

Reed, also known as the “Ball Hawk,” ranks first in NFL history in career interception return yards with 1,590, and is seventh in career interceptions with 64. His net of nearly 25 yards per interception return puts him in a category with only Deion Sanders as one of the most dangerous returners in NFL history.

This record may seem unbreakable, although the aforementioned Marcus Peters could technically pass Reed if he were to intercept 52 more passes and continue his 23 yards per interception return pace. Although it may be improbable, it is not impossible.

Career Interceptions returned for a touchdown

NFL defensive records
Hall of Famer Rod Woodson holds the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown with 12. (Photo by Solecollector.com)

Career leader: Rod Woodson (12)

Active leader: Aqib Talib (10)

Now this is a record that can be broken. Hall of Famer Rod Woodson holds the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown with 12, although 31-year-old Aqib Talib is just two house calls away from matching Woodson’s mark.

Talib has had at least one pick-six in seven of his ten seasons. Talib is a vital part of the Denver Broncos “No Fly Zone” defense, and he should have no problem intercepting a handful of passes throughout the rest of his career. I would not be surprised to see Talib holding this record by the end of his career.

Career sacks

Career leader: Bruce Smith (200.0)

Active leader: Julius Peppers (151.0)

Bruce Smith, who has 200 sacks over his illustrious career, has been the NFL’s sack king since surpassing Reggie Whites’ mark of 198 in 2003. It took Smith 19 seasons and 279 games to reach this mark.

The active sack leader is Julius Peppers, who has 151 sacks through 16 seasons and 242 games. With Peppers’ retirement imminent, it is clear he is not a threat to break the record.

Including Peppers, there are only four active players in the NFL with over 100 sacks: Dwight Freeney (123.5), Terrell Suggs (119) and Elvis Dumervil (102.5).

In my estimation, there are only three active players that have a chance to sniff Smith’s record. An honorable mention is Khalil Mack, as he is one of the league’s premier pass rushers. Because he is already 26 years old (which isn’t old) and has only 34.5 career sacks, it will be a stretch for him to reach Smith’s 200 sack mark.

The most likely candidate to break this record is the 2015 Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. In his seven-year career, he already has 80.5 career sacks and is averaging about 0.85 sacks per game. If Miller were to continue this pace, he would need to play in just over 141 more games to break Smith’s record. The likelihood of Miller playing nine more seasons at an elite level is unlikely, although he could improve his current sack pace if he stays healthy in his prime.

J.J. Watt was on pace to contend Smith’s record after recording 76 sacks in 83 games, posting a rate of .92 sacks per game, but was thrown off track due to injuries.

Watt missed most of the 2016 season and will miss the remainder of the 2017 season, causing his chances of catching Smith to continue to dwindle. If Watt returns healthy for the 2018 NFL season and continues his torrid sack pace, he would need to play for another eight seasons to contend with Smith. As an injury riddled 28-year-old, it seems unlikely Watt will become the sack king.

The other active player who may one day approach Smith’s sack record is Joey Bosa. The 22-year-old has a total of 19 sacks in just 20 games, giving him an insane .95 sacks per game. If he were to continue this pace for 13 seasons, he would approach Smith’s mark. Bosa will need to stay healthy and hungry for over a decade, which is something that very few players are capable of in today’s NFL.

Career Fumble recoveries

NFL defensive records
Rod Woodson holds the record for career fumble recoveries for a defensive player with 32. (Photo from NFL.com)

Career leader: Rod Woodson (32)

Active leader: Julius Peppers (18)

This record seems to be the least likely to be broken, ever. Recovering a fumble is incredibly difficult as many different factors affect a situation, including positioning, hand eye coordination and luck.

Rod Woodson holds the record for career fumble recoveries for a defensive player with 32. Woodson spent 17-seasons in the NFL and recovered at least one fumble every year.

The active leader in career fumble recoveries is Julius Peppers with 18, although no other defensive player in the NFL has half as many fumble recoveries as Woodson. This record may in fact never be broken.

Career Forced fumbles*

Career leader: Robert Mathis (54)

Active leader: Unknown

I understand forced fumbles is not an official NFL statistic, and unofficial numbers prior to 1991 were not recorded, although it should be.

According to Sportshoopla.com, unofficially, Robert Mathis is the NFL’s leader in career forced fumbles with 54. Unfortunately, because this stat is not officially calculated by the NFL, a list of active players’ career forced fumbles are not available, forcing me to believe this record will not be broken until the NFL begins to officially count the stat.

Career safeties

NFL defensive records
Jared Allen holds the NFL record for career safeties with four. (Photo by Genevieve Ross)

Career leader: Jared Allen, Doug English and Ted Hendricks (4)

Active leader(s): Calais Campbell, Leonard Floyd and Junior Galette (2)

This record may seem breakable since safeties are extremely uncommon. According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, one safety occurs every 14.31 games. Also, no player has ever recorded more than one safety in a single game.

There is a tie between three players for this record, the most recent being Jared Allen, who played in the NFL for 12 seasons. He recorded them all in just three seasons (2008, 2009, 2011).

Leonard Floyd seems like the most likely of the group to break this record, as he is half-way there and just 24 years old, but this record may be unbreakable due to the lack of safeties that occur.

So, are all career defensive records unbreakable? No, but clearly some records stand a chance of never being broken.

Did I miss any record-breaking candidates, or did I disrespect a legend by saying their record is breakable? Only time will tell, but let me know your opinions.

 

Featured image from SB Nation

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