Players in contention: Jerry Azumah (1999-2005), Walt Harris (1996-2001), Tim Jennings (2010-2014), R. W. McQuarters (2000-2004), Tracy Porter (2015-2016), Nathan Vasher (2004-2009), Charles Tillman (2003-2014), Donnell Woolford (1993-1996)
Charles Tillman is the best cornerback in the post-Ditka era.
Charles Tillman is the best cornerback in Bears history.
Charles Tillman is the best defensive back in Bears history.
I am certain of the first two statements, and pretty confident that the third is true, with apologies to Mike Brown, Gary Fencik, Richie Petitbon, Doug Plank, and others. Here are Peanut’s credentials:
Charles Tillman (2003-2014)
- 6’1”, 196 pounds
- 2003 2nd round by Bears (35th overall)
- 152 starts in 156 games
- 36 interceptions, 134 passes defended
- 42 forced fumbles, 11 recovered fumbles
- 9 defensive touchdowns
- 737 tackles, 3 sacks
- 2011 and 2012 Pro Bowl
- 2012 1st team All Pro
- 2005, 2006, 2010 playoffs (started Super Bowl XLI)
Peanut is 3rd in Bears history in interceptions, 1st in forced fumbles, and 1st in defensive touchdowns. He is, in my opinion, a Hall of Famer, thus making him the far and away best Bears cornerback in the post-Ditka era.
The question today is:
Who is #2?
I put seven players on our “in contention” list, (and looked at stats of nine) but that’s partly for posterity and the joy of Bears geekdom. I think this really comes down to four players. In order of appearance:
Donnell Woolford (1989-1996)
- 5’9”, 192 pounds
- 1989 1st round by Bears (11th overall)
- 56 starts in 56 games in the post-Ditka era
- 17 interceptions (passes defended is not a recorded stat until 2001)
- 1 forced fumble, 0 recovered fumbles
- 3 defensive touchdowns
- 239 tackles, 0 sacks
- 1993 Pro Bowl
- 1994 playoffs
Walt Harris (1996-2001)
- 5’11”, 192 pounds
- 1996 1st round by Bears (13th overall)
- 84 starts in 87 games
- 15 interceptions, 10 passes defended (PD is not a recorded stat until 2001)
- 9 forced fumbles, 7 recovered fumbles
- 3 defensive touchdowns
- 365 tackles, 1 sack
- No Pro Bowls (2006 Pro Bowl with 49ers)
- 2001 playoffs
Nathan Vasher (2004-2009)
- 5’10”, 180 pounds
- 2004 4th round by Bears (110th overall)
- 46 starts in 73 games
- 19 interceptions, 44 passes defended
- 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble
- 2 defensive touchdowns
- 137 tackles, 1 sack
- 2005 Pro Bowl
- 2005 2nd team All Pro
- 2005 and 2006 playoffs (started Super Bowl XLI)
Tim Jennings (2010-2014)
- 5’8”, 186 pounds
- 2006 2nd round by Colts (62nd overall)
- Signed with Bears as free agent in 2010 (WCG writeup)
- 74 starts in 78 games with the Bears
- 16 interceptions, 58 passes defended
- 5 forced fumbles, 4 recovered fumbles
- 3 defensive touchdowns
- 251 tackles, 0 sacks
- 2012 and 2013 Pro Bowl
- 2012 2nd team All Pro
- 2010 playoffs
Of the four, Vasher holds the most special place in Bears’ fans hearts, was the biggest star, made the most memorable plays, had the most exciting individual season (2005), and has the most concrete place in Bears history.
Harris had the longest Bears tenure and got better with age, using his career momentum to reach new heights after he left Chicago.
Woolford was a starter on a surprising 1994 Bears defense that ranked 5th in the NFL in pass defense en route to an upset playoffs win over Minnesota.
And Jennings had the best individual run, making back-to-back Pro Bowls and giving the Bears the best corner tandem in the league in 2012.
When I wrote the first version of this series in 2009, I picked Harris to join Tillman, because Vasher was still on the team and in the midst of a startling decline. Looking back now, I think I would probably take Vasher over Harris, yet Jennings has a terrific case too. He was more physical than Vasher and seemed to create turnovers out of athleticism, muscle, and effort.
I took this one to the WCG team. Here’s what we said:
Ken Mitchell: Stick Vasher at nickel — problem solved :)
Lester Wiltfong: I’ve never liked Vasher. Like ever. He had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, but his interceptions were all mostly fortuitous bounces.
Look how good Corey Graham played the year Vasher was hurt. He never should have returned to the bench for the overrated Vasher. I’d take Azumah, Harris, Jennings, or Woolford over Vasher.
Jack: I hear you. Vash had great hands and big-game timing (save for a dropped INT in XLI), yet I never felt he was a great one-on-one player. But maybe that is a hole in my understanding of the position?
Obviously as a coach you have a better sense. Who is your #2 opposite Peanut?
Lester: I’ll take Jennings over Woolford, but just because he played more during the post-Ditka era. Plus I admire how he really worked on his hands then started getting interceptions.
Robert Zeglinski: Give me Jennings next to Tillman — he was dynamite. Smart player who made the best of his opportunities and perfect fit for a zone defense with good physicality.
Ed Snyder: Really interesting debate on this one. A strange thing happened when I looked at the list: if I balance it empirically I get one answer. If I take a more "feel" approach to it I get another.
It’s hard for me to vote against Woolford. Very hard. He was one my early Bears heroes, and a player I watched to see how good CB's plied their trade. He's solidly in my Hall of Very Good... not just for the Bears but for the whole league. He was a cut below the very top tier of cornerbacks of the day, but if you had an interest in technical DB play, it was just a very thin slice below. He was an excellent, tough, rangy, pure corner. And he was effective.
Jennings was never my favorite but to Lester's point, he improved, dramatically, during his stop with the Bears. He became a different (much improved) player and should be given all due credit for that. His ability to morph from a hammering slot cornerback into a solid #2 corner who could hold his own as a #1 on occasion is really noteworthy and a great reminder that player development moves in all directions, up, down, and sideways.
Jennings, by a wafer-thin margin, over a great Bear in Woolford.
Azumah was a great player but really transcended boundaries as a do-it-all football player. He could have a spot on my team any day. In fact, if I was trying this for real he would have been just the type of player I would have gravitated toward for his role-blending prowess. He’d be a Jacknife, by the way.
Sam Householder: I’d vote Harris. He was a little before my time but his stats speak for themselves: most forced fumbles and recovered fumbles behind Peanut. He was a very solid #2 for a good while in Chicago.
Jack: I was hard on Harris while he was with the Bears, basically all the way up until his final season here.
So I'll say this about Nate Vasher: there's something to be said for memories, experience, and timing.
Nate was one of the symbols of the rise of the Lovie Bears. He made the big play against San Fran in the 3-game winning streak in 2004 and he made arguably the three biggest plays of the 2005 season. (The missed FG TD, the two picks against Carolina, and the pick six against Green Bay.) Jennings was maybe better, but Vasher was a phenomenon.
Ken: I always liked Vasher because he was a guy who could really take over games. Yes, he had his weaknesses, I get that. But he also could ball.
Josh Sunderbruch: I go Jennings.
Vasher had some great games, but Jennings was quietly consistent. In roughly the same number of games played (78 vs. 73), they both had 21 turnovers. (Side note: think about that and the current state of the Bears.)
But Jennings broke up 14 more passes (58 to 44), and recovered four times as many fumbles. He had something like an extra hundred tackles. Lovie preached that guys should swarm to the ball, and Jennings did that reliably.
Right now, I’m going with Jennings, but just as we did with the tight end article, I want to hear from readers before I make our final decision. READERS: Who is the 2nd best Bears cornerback in the post-Ditka era? Remember, we are only judging the player’s time in Chicago.
Drop your explanation in the comments.
NEXT WEDNESDAY: the cornerback’s loyal mirror and fierce adversary... the wide receiver...
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
After Charles Tillman, who is the 2ND BEST BEARS CORNERBACK in the post-Ditka era?
This poll is closed