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Charles Tillman announced his retirement on Monday, marking the end of a remarkable career. From a game-saving interception (video here) during his rookie season to stop a Daunte Culpepper game-winning touchdown pass to Randy Moss, Tillman was known for delivering big plays in key moments for the Bears. But he will always be remembered for doing something cornerbacks don’t really do: or, given the rate at which he did it, maybe he should be remembering for intercepting passes at an abnormally high rate for a player who forced so many fumbles.

From 2003 to 2015, there were 49 players who recorded 20+ interceptions. During those same years, 52 players recorded at least 15 forced fumbles. Tillman had 38 interceptions and 44 forced fumbles.  To put that remarkable figure in context, take a look at the graph below, which shows all 95 players with either 20+ interceptions or 15+ forced fumbles from ’03 to ’15:


Tillman made just two Pro Bowls in his career, but he will go down as one of the more unique players of this era.  He also had eight pick sixes over that span, tied with Darren Sharper and Aqib Talib for second-most over those years behind Charles Woodson (nine). Is Tillman a HOFer?

It’s easy to craft the argument that he is not.  In many ways, his career isn’t dissimilar from say, Rashean Mathis. Mathis also entered the league in ’03, played in 175 games and started 165 (Tillman finished at 168/164).  Mathis was a one-time Pro Bowler and one-team first-team All-Pro, compared to Tillman’s 2/1 honors.  Tillman had 85 points of AV, Mathis 83.

But numbers tell only part of the story, particularly at cornerback.  So what say you?

  • Adam

    I’d rather see Tillman in the HoF than a CB who gambles to rack up INT’s but also gets beat a lot. If someone like DeAngelo Hall makes it further than Peanut in the HoF voting process, I will eat my hat.

  • I think part of what kept him from getting as many Pro Bowl nods is this weird notion that he couldn’t play man coverage because he was so good at zone coverage. It was clear watching the game that he could do both superbly. He was one of the best players on a consistently good defense for much of his career, which tends to help his HOF case. However, deservedly or not, the lack of postseason honors really hurts his chances (that and the HOF’s hatred of DBs in general). I’d say HOVG.

  • Josh Sanford

    I am probably going to look like an idiot for asking this. Has anyone studied forced fumbles to show whether it is a “skill” that a DB can have? Totally unrelated: Charles Woodson had SEVEN seasons in which he made exactly one (1) interception. And yet he has 65 INTs for his career. How many more career picks does Woodson have compared to all other players who have 7 seasons with just one pick?

    • Next most is Shawn Springs with 33. Then Mike Zordich with 20. The best example (to me) is Mike Singletary: he had 7 seasons with one interception, and those were the only interceptions of his career.

      • Josh Sanford

        Thanks for the trivia answer. I figured he was an outlier…but not that much of one.

        • I think he still qualifies as an outlier. He has nearly twice as many career interceptions as the next guy on the list (who, in turn, has 65% more than the guy after him). Then a few guys between 11 and 16, followed by Singletary with 7.

          • Josh Sanford

            My wording was unintentionally obtuse. What I meant was this: “I did not figure that he would be such an extreme outlier, just a regular outlier.” Because if you subtract the 7 picks in the isolated years, he actually has well over 2x as many as Springs, etc. So I am saying, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • “Has anyone studied forced fumbles to show whether it is a “skill” that a DB can have?”

      I don’t know of any such studies, but I’ve seen smart football writers (e.g., Bill Barwell) mention that causing a fumble is a repeatable skill but recovering a fumble is mostly chance.

      In the case of Peanut, I think we can safely conclude from watching him that it is a skill, as he would frequently punch at the football in an obviously deliberate manner.

      • Tom

        Yeah, he had that huge play in the 2nd quarter of the SB against Indy…forced and recovered a fumble.

      • Topher Doll

        A number of defensive coaches believe it’s a skill, the leading proponent is, not surprisingly, Lovie Smith. Pete Carroll also puts time into coaching his defensive players to focus on forcing fumbles. Fumbles also have a decent year to year consistency factor if I remember correctly.

        Obviously fumbles recovered is much more luck and has higher year to year variance.

  • Clint

    The only player who has ever done this.

    • Richie

      A PFR Whack!

    • Anders

      He is also 1 of 3 players in the 30/30 club (and the one with fewest games played by far).

      There is only 2 members of the 30 int, 30 FF and 20 sack club, with zero in the 30/30/30 (Brian Dawkin is closest with 26 sacks)

  • Richie

    I took a quick look at Charles Tillman from 2003-2010 (excluding 2004), in comparison to the CB’s who made the Pro Bowl. Those are the years that Tillman didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but may have had a case. This created a pool of 63 player-seasons, including 7 from Tillman.

    This was during a time when the Bears were generally an above-average defense, and were probably a top-5 defense in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

    I just did a rotisserie baseball-style ranking of Tackles, Assists, Interceptions, INT TDs, Passes Defensed, and Forced Fumbles. When you sort all 63 player-seasons, Tillman’s 2005 ranks 5th-best. His 2008 season ranks 6th-best. His worst season was 2003, and it ranked 36th-best.

    Based on my highly UNscientific model, Tillman ranked:
    3rd out of 8 in 2003
    1st out of 7 in 2005
    4th out of 10 in 2006
    4th out of 7 in 2007
    1st out of 9 in 2008
    4th out of 11 in 2009
    5th out of 11 in 2010

    So based purely on a handful of statistics I picked, Tillman was probably a worthy Pro Bowler in 7 seasons that he didn’t earn Pro Bowl honors.

    • Richie

      Of course one of the flaws with this method is that those statistics don’t tell the whole story. The lowest-rated season is Nnamdi Asomugha in 2010 when he also made All Pro and got a huge contract from the Eagles the following season. His 2008 and 2009 seasons also rank in the bottom 8, and that was the time where his legend was growing as the most dominant CB of his time.

      In those 3 seasons combined, Asomugha was credited with just 19 total passes defensed and 2 interceptions. The AVERAGE passes defensed in a season amongst the players I sampled is 15. Asomugha was averaging half that.

  • I don’t think there’s much chance of Tillman actually making the Hall of Fame. The only cornerbacks who have played since Blount retired in 1983 and then gone on to make the Hall of Fame are Mike Haynes, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Aeneas Williams, and Deion Sanders. And Tillman is going to be stuck behind Champ, Ronde, and Charles, (and I’m not sure he’s clearly ahead of Nnamdi). Plus in five years there’s a very good chance Revis will probably be retired and waiting his turn, too.

    In another universe where the Hall actually liked defensive backs, I could see Tillman deserving consideration.

  • Ryan

    Players with 70+ INT + FF career:
    98 – Charles Woodson
    91 – Rod Woodson
    82 – Charles Tillman
    81 – Paul Krause
    79 – Emlen Tunnell
    79 – Ronnie Lott
    75 – Ed Reed
    73 – Brian Dawkins
    72 – Eugene Robinson
    71 – Darren Sharper

    • Richie

      FWIW, I don’t think PFR has any Forced Fumble data before 1982. And even most of the stuff in the early 1980s looks a little sketchy.

      For instance, in 1984 there were at least 874 total fumbles in the NFL. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/1984/

      But, only 17 Forced Fumbles show up in the play finder: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/tiny/SmVU7

      • Ryan

        Good points, still awesome that peanut finishes third amongst defensive backs over the past 30 or so years.

      • I think the forced fumble data is spotty into the 1990s as well. If you look at Lawrence Taylor’s player page, it says he had zero forced fumbles in his entire career. In reality, he had (I believe) 56 forced fumbles.

        Really, fumbles on offense and fumbles forced by defense shouldn’t match, given that unforced fumbles happen all the time. But a discrepancy as huge as the one in your example is pretty alarming.

  • http://www.pro-football-reference.com/tiny/vyCuU

    Position data on pfr can be a little fudgy (Notice the second-best fumble forcing CB of all time on that search!), but unless it’s missing someone, it looks like number two among true career CBs in fumbles forced is Nate Clements. Clements had 22. Tillman had 44.

    Charles Woodson is of course an asterisk, because he was still being listed as a CB in Green Bay when it was probably more accurate to describe him as a rover, linebacker, or safety. He finished with 33, and had 17-18 before he really was playing a different position.