Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis have used social media to stage a duel for the title of NFL's best cornerback, but the quiet peanut in the corner might actually have the best case for such a claim.
In fact, one could argue that no cornerback in football produced the kind of overall impact Tillman gave the Bears last season.
For comparison's sake, let's first dissect Tillman and Sherman (who were both healthy in 2012), by using numbers provided by Pro Football Focus.
While Sherman intercepted more passes (eight, compared to Tillman's three), defended more passes (24 to 16) and had a better opposing passer rating (41.1 to 77.0), Tillman actually outperformed Sherman in a number of other categories:
- Tillman was targeted 98 times in 2012, compared to just 87 for Sherman. Yet Tillman allowed 53 less yards (581 to 634) and had a yards-per-completion average of over six yards less (9.4 to 15.5). Only three cornerbacks who played 500 or more snaps allowed less yards per catch than Tillman last season.
- Tillman missed four tackles and allowed an average YAC (yards after the catch) of just 3.02. Sherman missed six and allowed 3.29.
- Tillman had the fourth-best tackling efficiency among cornerbacks last season. Sherman was 26th.
- The longest pass completed on Tillman last season was 28 yards. Sherman's was 56.
- Tillman made 76 tackles, of which 23 were "stops," or tackles made that constituted an offensive failure. Sherman had just 56 and 13.
- Tillman forced a league-leading 10 fumbles. Sherman forced three. No player, regardless of position, had more than seven.
- Tillman returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns. Two of Sherman's eight picks were returned for scores. Overall, Tillman has eight career touchdown returns.
- Sherman committed six total penalties. Tillman, just two.
A quick translation of the numbers: Tillman doesn't give up big gains, he turns over offenses at a similar rate and he's better tackling against the run and pass.
One could legitimately claim that Sherman was a better cover cornerback, but few defensive backs in football last season could say they did more overall than Tillman, including Sherman.
Comparing Tillman and Revis is a trickier task. The New York Jets cornerback missed all but two games last season because of an ACL injury, so there's very little reason to compare numbers from last season.
That said, PFF has dug up three-year numbers for Revis that paint a similar picture.
As you'd expect, the stats say that Revis remains the game's premier "shutdown" cornerback. Over a three-year sample, Revis has allowed just five total touchdown passes and an opposing passer rating under 45.0. These are elite numbers in coverage that Tillman (or even Sherman) can't claim.
But once again, Tillman's impact goes beyond just shutting down an opposing receiver.
Over his last 31 games, Revis has just five interceptions and one forced fumble. Tillman has 17 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions since 2010.
Over that same span, Revis produced a total of 23 stops. Tillman had that many in 16 games last season.
Revis will take away one side of the field, but you sacrifice the kind of turnovers and impact against the run that Tillman provides every snap.
Obviously, picking the best cornerback in the NFL is an exercise in prioritization.
Do you want your top corner to be one of the elite cover men? Revis and Sherman clearly led that charge and are worthy of your selection. Tillman is very good in coverage, but claiming him to be elite in that area is probably a stretch.
However, if you're looking for the complete package, no cornerback has a more loaded resume than Tillman. His ability to cover, tackle and cause turnovers is unmatched at his position.
He may not take to Twitter to state his case alongside Revis and Sherman, but Tillman certainly belongs in the conversation as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.