DeMarcus Ware and Pass-Rushers Who Could Break Michael Strahan's Sack Record
The NFL's recent increase in passing attempts has led to more than just record-breaking numbers gained through the air.
Fans of hard-hitting defense were rewarded with a season-long flurry of quarterback sacks.
Four pass-rushers tallied over 15 sacks in 2011, compared to just one (DeMarcus Ware) in 2010.
Let's face it—while we love to see our favorite QB air it out, we find just as much pleasure watching opposing signal-callers put on their back.
If your favorite squad develops a pass-rusher that consistently draws double-teams and yet still can't be stopped, he will likely quickly join the ranks of the elite.
Gone are the days during which legends like Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene successfully scoured the gridiron to claim their prey.
Despite the increase in passing numbers, namely in 2011, Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 sacks (set in 2001) still stands today.
Surely, though, records were meant to be broken.
Here are the five sack specialists who are most likely to break Strahan's single-season sack record in 2012.
DeMarcus Ware, OLB
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No outside linebacker sets the standard for rushing the quarterback like six-time All-Pro DeMarcus Ware.
The defensive superstar has recorded double-digit sacks in six straight seasons and has twice come knocking on the doorstep of Strahan's record (20 in 2008, 19.5 in 2011).
After claiming the sack title in two different seasons, earning four first-team All-Pro honors, six trips to the Pro Bowl and an NFC Defensive Player of the Year award, there's not much left for Ware to accomplish from an individual standpoint than to break Strahan's record.
Strahan didn't eclipse the 15-sack mark until he set his record-breaking 22.5 in his ninth NFL season.
Ware, 29 years old, is only entering his eighth year in the league.
It's fair to say the NFL's most fierce outside linebacker has as good a shot as anyone.
Aldon Smith, OLB
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The 49ers' first-round pick in the 2011 draft displayed all the makings of a superstar a season ago, when he totaled 14 sacks in his rookie campaign.
He didn't start a single game in the process.
Smith, who was mainly the team's third down pass-rush specialist, was absolutely dominant at times. He narrowly missed out on the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award that eventually went to Denver Broncos LB Von Miller.
In 2012, the 49ers plan to make Smith a full-time starter at the outside linebacker position.
While the extra snaps will ultimately create more opportunities for the former Missouri product, it is also conceivable that the extra reps will render the 23-year-old less effective than usual on third downs.
Nonetheless, the division in which Smith plays should keep him in the running all by itself.
That, and the array of breathtaking moves he uses to get to the quarterback.
The Niners' three NFC West opponents—the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks—made up three of the top four teams in sacks allowed in 2011. St. Louis was first with 55, Arizona next with 54 and Seattle fourth with 50 sacks allowed.
Those teams will make up six of Smith's opponents in 2011.
The others include the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and New York Giants. Each of these teams rely on a pass-heavy offensive attack, which will give "99 problems" plenty of shots to improve his sack total.
Smith recorded two or more sacks in four different games last season (including two each against the Lions and Rams) and tallied one in each of the Niners' two playoff games.
Unfortunately, he's recently made news (SFGate.com) for all the wrong reasons. The freakish athletic talent needs to get back on the right track and focus on joining the ranks of the elite in 2012.
Jared Allen, DE
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After coming half-a-sack shy of Strahan's record in 2011, Allen's name has to be thrown into the discussion.
The 30-year-old has a motor that never quits. What's more, he is locked in a division with three pass-happy rivals in the Packers, Lions and Bears.
Allen's Vikings will also face off against the Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks—three of the top four teams in sacks allowed from 2011.
No. 69 will have his opportunities in 2012, that's for sure.
Block him if you can.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
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For Giants fans, who better to break Strahan's sack record than a current member of the G-men?
In 2011, Pierre-Paul blew away the competition. He was a major factor in the Giants becoming world champions.
The South Florida product tallied 16.5 sacks and earned first-team All-Pro honors in what was just his second NFL season.
The scary thing is, he's yet to even learn the nuances of his position at the NFL level. Most of his 2011 success was achieved purely on athletic ability.
This video of Pierre-Paul busting out consecutive back-flips proves that the 6'5", 278-pound DE has far more raw athleticism than most defensive ends around the league.
It's hard to consistently double-team a beast like Pierre-Paul when the Giants have other elite pass-rushers in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
Nevertheless, opposing offenses better figure something out quick, before Strahan's record succumbs to a young star entering only his third NFL season.
Anyone I missed that you feel has a shot at claiming the sack record? Be sure to let me hear about it in the comments below.