Smith was the better player — he was an 11-time Pro Bowler and an 8-time AP first-team All-Pro, compared to just 5/2 for Greene — and consequently was a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer. For whatever reason, it took Greene 12 years, but this summer, he will finally be inducted into the Hall. Given the fact that Smith has 25% more career sacks than Greene, you probably think that Smith was the better pass rusher. To that, the Gray Ink test says not so fast, my friend.
- Greene led the NFL in sacks twice (20 points); Smith never was the single-season sack king (0).
- Three times, Smith finished 2nd in sacks (27 points), giving him 3 top-2 finishes; Greene ranked 2nd once, giving him 3 top-2 finishes (cumulative total of 29 points).
- Both players had one season ranking 3rd in sacks, and one season ranking 4th in sacks. That puts Greene at 44 points, and Smith at 42 points.
- Smith had one season where he ranked 5th in sacks (48 points), giving him an impressive 6 seasons in the top 5 in sacks; Greene never ranked 5th, keeping him at 5 top-5 seasons (44 points).
- However, Greene did have a season where he ranked 6th in sacks, and two where he ranked 7th (57 points); that gives him 8 seasons in the top 7, while Smith is stuck on 6 top-7 seasons (48 points).
- Finally, Smith did have two seasons where he ranked 9th in sacks (52 points), while Greene had no more top-ten seasons.
As a result, Greene finishes with more Gray Ink than Smith, mostly because he had two more seasons in the top 7 in sacks. He and Reggie White are the only two players with eight top-7 finishes in sacks; no other player has more than six.
Take a look at the table below, which shows the Gray Ink for every player since 1982 with at least 15 points of Gray Ink. Here’s how to read the Jared Allen line, who ranks tied for 4th with DeMarcus Ware with 45 points of Gray Ink. Allen had 136 sacks in his career, which came across 12 seasons where he had at least one sack. He had 2 first-place finishes, 1 second-place finish, a 5th-place finish, and ranked 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th in sacks in one season each.
- I’m always a bit underwhelmed by Lawrence Taylor’s sack numbers. This ignores the 9.5 sacks he had as a rookie, but he led the league in sacks just one time, and only ranked in the top five two other times. And this came despite playing on a star-studded front seven and under one of the greatest defensive coaches of all time.
- J.J. Watt has 29 points of Gray Ink in five seasons; Ware has 45 points in 11 years. Watt is already tied (with six other players) for the since-1982 title of most seasons leading the NFL in sacks with two; he’s also one of seven players tied for second with 3 seasons of finishing in the top two in sacks (White is the only player to do it four times).
- Mark Gastineau finished a little lower on this list than you might think, but remember that it excludes his 1981 season, when he had 20 sacks (teammate Joe Klecko had 20.5). I don’t know if Gastineau ranked 2nd in the NFL that year, or if his 11.5 sacks in 1980 would earn him any points. But he might jump to the top 10 or 12 if we had sack data back to 1980.