Administrative Note: This will be the first of 300 columns with the same headline.
When the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame Class is announced, Charles Tillman’s name should be on the list.
It’s not going to happen. Tillman spent his career being thought of as just a local hero even though he played in a major media market on a team that regularly had one of the best defenses in the NFL. While Tillman was one of the best players in the NFL, he was never really recognized for it.
Charles Woodson is a lock to be on that list. Tillman was a better player.
Woodson was most known for his ability to take the ball away, but he wasn’t necessarily better at that than Tillman. Woodson had a combined 98 interceptions and forced fumbles in 254 games. Peanut had 82 in 168 games. If you were to average that out to a 16 game season, Tillman would’ve averaged nearly eight per season, compared to around six for Woodson.
Woodson had more interceptions, but even there the difference isn’t great. Woodson averaged 4.1 interceptions per 16 games, while Tillman was at 3.6. While he could take the ball away, Woodson wasn’t nearly as good in coverage as Tillman was (the Packers typically put Tramon Williams on the other team’s best receiver).
Tillman went through his entire career underrated because of the untrue stigma that he was just a Cover 2 corner. Never mind the fact that he was terrific as a rookie before Lovie Smith took over as the Bears coach or that neither of Lovie’s best two defensive coordinators — Ron Rivera and Rod Marinelli — actually ran that much Cover 2.
You can ask another guy who is likely to be on that 2021 list, Calvin Johnson, about Tillman’s ability to play man coverage. Tillman regularly shut Johnson down. He did the same to Randy Moss, who finished with under 35 yards in two of their three meetings while Moss was in his prime.
But Tillman never got the credit. Instead it went to Urlacher, Briggs and Lovie, when it’s entirely possible Tillman was the best of the bunch. I partially blame the local Chicago media for simply not recognizing what they were seeing. To this day, some of them don’t realize the error of their ways.
3. Tillman would not have fit every scheme, but his zone instincts and ability to bump and run were excellent.
— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) July 19, 2016
Tillman finally got recognition in 2012 when he should’ve been the Defensive Player of the Year, forcing 10 fumbles, intercepting three passes and scoring three touchdowns. But it was too little too late. Injuries pretty kept Tillman off the field most of the next three seasons, although he still had a combined 10 Peanut Punches and interceptions in 22 games.
Tillman had a chance to win the Super Bowl last year, but for a third straight season, he ended up in IR. That was it, he called it a career. It was a Hall of Fame career, even if he never gets honored there.