Will Charles Tillman Be a Hall of Famer?
Wait, what? Did I really just ask that question? Charles Tillman, a Hall of Famer? Am I out of my mind? Maybe. Maybe not. As of today, I will admit that there is probably zero chance, given how extremely difficult it is to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that Charles Tillman will be inducted into Canton. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be the homer than I am and make the case anyways.
Peanut is arguably the most under-appreciated cornerback of our generation, having been to one Pro Bowl his entire career and never making it onto an All-Pro team, and he will continue to be for the rest of eternity. Whether the lack of appreciation or career accomplishments will be his kryptonite, I’m not sure. Only true Bears fans, like ourselves, and Tillman’s teammates can acknowledge all the little things he has done on a weekly basis since the day he stepped onto Soldier Field for the first time in 2003. Whether it be punching the football out of a receiver’s grip with Ivan Drago-like strength or exemplifying himself as a role model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage on and off the field (recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2009; finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2011), there is nothing that Charles Tillman has done to disappoint me in his 10+ year career. Sure, he’s had some bad games over the years, such as the 2006 NFC Divisional Game against Carolina (to Tillman’s defense, it was a poor collective effort from both him and Nathan Vasher; Steve Smith led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that season – he was simply unstoppable), but what cornerback hasn’t? Like the rest of this ageless Bears defense, Tillman refuses to regress and has shown that, at 31 years of age, he is more than capable of playing another three, four or even five years in the NFL.
So, where does this whole Hall of Fame argument come from, you ask? Well, I decided to put together the statistics of every cornerback currently in the Hall (there are only 15 of them) and compare them to Tillman’s, which I pro-rated through the 2015 season (assuming the Bears re-sign him or give him an a two-year extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next year). In other words, forget Pro Bowl appearances and all that bullshit: if Tillman continues to record the same number of interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, tackles, passes defended and total touchdowns that he has averaged throughout his career for the next 3.5 seasons, how will his numbers measure up to those of the greats? Let’s dive in.
As you can see, tackles and forced fumbles did not become recorded statistics until relatively recently, so it’s more difficult to compare Tillman’s potential statistics at career’s end than anticipated. Nevertheless, we’ll compare anyways.
Clearly, the interceptions aren’t as high most of the studs on this list, but interceptions have never really been Tillman’s staple. He has never been the shut-down corner that you’d expect out of a Hall of Famer. Instead, he has made his living by forcing an incredible amount of turnovers and limiting his counterpart’s yards after the catch. What Tillman lacks in speed, he makes up for in strength. He has forced more fumbles at this point in his career than ANY defensive back in the history of the NFL, including Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Ronnie Lott (also tied for 5th in forced fumbles among all positions). He is the second player since 1991 (the other being Brian Dawkins) to record 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. He is the ONLY player since 2005 to record 25+ interceptions and 25+ forced fumbles. He is tied with Donnell Wolford for third in Bears’ history with 32 interceptions (Gary Fencik is the leader with 38), and he ranks first in Bears’ history with seven defensive touchdowns. You get the point.
Tillman also ranks third amongst these Hall of Famers in total defensive touchdowns and can easily tie or surpass Deion Sanders by career’s end, and his 10 fumble recoveries is equal to, or more than, seven of the players on the list. Pretty amazing.
In order to give ourselves another perspective, I figured it might be beneficial to compare Tillman’s numbers to those of two cornerbacks that are still currently playing and are considered to be instant Hall of Famers by a majority of fans and nearly everyone within the NFL circle: Ronde Barber and Charles Woodson.
There are a couple important things to keep in mind when looking at these numbers: 1) Barber is more than likely going to retire after this season, so his career statistics (besides tackles) shouldn’t change that much going forward, and 2) Charles Woodson has another two years remaining on his contract after this season, so his numbers will certainly improve. That being said, he’s a banged up 36-year-old cornerback-converted-safety, so exactly how much those numbers will improve is really difficult to project. He will also have played a lot more NFL seasons than I have projected Tillman to play. Analyze his statistics however you see fit.
Based on these projections, Tillman should have nearly the same amount of tackles and interceptions as Barber by career’s end. The lack of passes defended compared to these two should be completely negated by the absurd amount of forced fumbles that Tillman may potentially end up with, as well as the ten or so total defensive touchdowns. You’ve got to remember now: Barber and Woodson are locks for the Hall of Fame. If all goes according to plan, Tillman’s numbers will be right up there with the likes of those two, so who’s to say that he doesn’t belong in the same breath as them?
Peanut Tillman’s production as the Bears’ top cornerback for the past ten years and counting can’t be understated. He’s as underrated as any player you’ll ever find, and he’s a major reason why the Bears defense has had so much success implementing the unpopular Cover 2. He does all the little things necessary to win football games, and he’s as smart as anyone on the field. Most importantly, his numbers will be right up there with some of the all-time greats at his position. Tillman likely won’t make the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done, but he sure as hell should never be an afterthought.