Chicago Bears: Appreciating Peanut Tillman’s one-of-a-kind career

As Charles Tillman officially retires as a member of the Chicago Bears today, he does so as arguably the greatest defensive back ever to put on a Bears uniform and certainly the best in recent memory.

But in addition to appreciating Tillman’s status as an all-time great Bears player, let’s also take a second to marvel at just how singular his career was, even when compared with some of the elite defensive players in NFL history.

While Tillman never seemed to get league-wide recognition throughout his career—earning his first Pro Bowl in 2011 (9th season) and getting his first All-Pro nod in 2012 (10th season)—his well-rounded ability to take the ball from opposing offenses has quite possibly never been seen before.

This graphic put together by Football Perspective sums it up rather nicely:

Just as a note, while this list doesn’t include defensive players from earlier than about 2011, there are some truly outstanding names (Charles Woodson, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Julius Peppers) being compared here. And yet, when analyzing the proportion of interceptions to the number of fumbles each player on the list forced, “Peanut” is in a league completely of his own.

While Tillman has remarkably balanced totals of interceptions and forced fumbles (38 INTs, 44 forced fumbles), everyone else is skewed heavily toward one or the other. On the left of the plot are primarily pass rushers racking up forced fumbles on strip sacks (Peppers is somewhat of an anomaly with 11 career INTs). Look to the right and you see ball-hawking safeties and corners (Woodson, Reed, Asante Samuel) who specialized in picking off passes; Woodson was one of the only DBs that had more than 20 forced fumbles.

Tillman was no one-trick pony, however. True, his patented Peanut Punch was perhaps the defining characteristic of those swarming Lovie Smith defenses that prized takeaways above all else and has become teaching tape for defensive players around the league.

Opponents noticed too: former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch once hilariously yelled at Tillman—while being tackled, no less—that he saw him coming “from a mile away” and tucked the ball even more tightly to stop Peanut stripping him. The Packers even made a point to warn their offensive players about his tactics, though it didn’t seem to stop him…

Peanut Punch

But along with all that, his ball skills and versatile coverage ability—often underrated due to his playing in a Cover 2 system—allowed him to make a significant impact in the passing game. In fact, during his All-Pro 2012 season, Pro Football Focus actually graded Tillman as one of the best cover corners in the league.

Also, how many corners could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson—two of the most talented receivers ever to play—and have the ability to not just hold their own, but honestly be confident they can get the better of the match-up?

While Peanut’s chances of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer aren’t great, given that he’s going up against the likes of Peyton Manning, Woodson, and Johnson, there’s a more than legitimate argument that he deserves to get his own bust in Canton eventually.

He may not have been the kind of household name people talk about when debating “best corner in the league,” but Charles Tillman’s production and uncanny knack for impacting games in multiple ways was simply one of a kind.

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