“We watched him at (Washington) all the time. We always practiced the Peanut Punch. When we walked behind us, I was like, ‘Damn, that’s him!’”
— Bears rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon in May, describing Charles Tillman teaching Bears defenders how to force fumbles during minicamp
Watch a weekend of NFL football in 2022, and you’re bound to see a defender attempt the Peanut Punch.
Now the NFL wants to make Charles Tillman’s signature move an official part of the game.
In a league memo sent yesterday to all GMs and head coaches, NFL officials offered information and a training video showing how players can properly execute the ball-punching technique that Bears legend Charles Tillman made famous for forcing fumbles.
Per the memo, the training videos are the work of Chuck Pagano, who before his time as a head coach and defensive coordinator (including 2019 and 2020 with the Bears) was a secondary coach for 20 seasons in college and the NFL, including his first nine seasons in the NFL.
Tillman himself made the memo public yesterday, noting that neither Pagano nor anyone from the league consulted with him in the making of the video:
Memo for the #PeanutPunch I tried to tell y’all it’s a game changer. @NFLOfficiating next time call ya boy, I can teach it better then Coach Pagano. I can show y’all how to do it the right way. You know where to find me… pic.twitter.com/HRgOGyBSf3— Charles Tillman (@peanuttillman) December 7, 2022
The memo is curiously worded, as it focuses on players doing the Peanut Punch “when the runner is on the ground,” which seems like it would simply be down by contact. I imagine more about this will come to light this season and in subsequent seasons.
Regardless, the mere fact that the league office felt the need to send this memo to every team’s GM and head coach speaks to the method’s growing popularity, something seen both statistically and anecdotally.
And unlike Deacon Jones’s famed head slap, which the NFL outlawed in 1977, the Peanut Punch appears to be here to stay.
First the stats. Per Pro Football Reference and Stathead sort tools, today’s NFL cornerbacks are on pace to shatter the league record for most combined forced fumbles by corners.
NFL record, most combined forced fumbles for cornerbacks
- 2005: 44 forced fumbles
- 2022 pace: 59.5 forced fumbles
Though Pro Football Reference’s sorting tools for forced fumbles start officially in 1999, most players have FF data going back to the mid-1980s. So while overall data should be taken with a grain of flexibility, this much is certain:
The cornerback forced fumble revolution is real.
Interestingly, when I wrote “Charles Tillman’s Hall of Fame Problem” in July 2016 following Peanut’s retirement, I noted that one of the problems was Tillman’s low number of Pro Bowls (2), and All Pro selections (1), which I said were partly the result of the league not understanding the value of forced fumble as part of a DB’s arsenal.
That has flipped completely today, as the punch-out — and the broadcaster’s credit to Tillman — is nearly a weekly occurrence.
I’ve been saying this since @peanuttillman retired: Peanut has the distinction of a Hall of Fame case growing in retirement as everyone realizes the impact of the #PeanutPunch. 44 forced fumbles — only DB in top 10. Studied by defenders, taught by coaches.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) October 13, 2022
The first corner to lead the NFL in forced fumbles was Jason Sehorn, with five in 1996. After that, no corner led the NFL in forced fumbles until, you guessed it, Peanut, in his historic 2012 season, in which he tied the NFL season record with 10 forced fumbles.
Two years ago, the NFL league-leader in forced fumbles was Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey, with eight. “The Peanut Punch is something I really take to heart,” Humphrey said in 2020, noting that the technique is something that corners are commonly adding to their repertoire.
That studying shows up weekly in NFL and college broadcasts, and annually on the NFL’s forced fumble leaderboards.
NFL cornerbacks leading the league in forced fumbles
- 1996: Jason Sehorn — 5
- 2012: Charles Tillman — 10 (NFL record)
- 2020: Marlon Humphrey — 8
- 2022, in progress: Coby Bryant — 4
Total top-5 finishes in forced fumbles, NFL cornerbacks
- 1999-2019: 10x
- 2020-2022: 7x
As of this writing, Seahawks cornerback Coby Bryant is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles at four.
Here’s one more fun one. When Charles Tillman entered the NFL, Hall of Fame sack artist Chris Doleman was the league’s career leader in forced fumbles with 44.
Tillman ended his career tied with Doleman.
Peanut is not the only cornerback who made stripping the ball a key component of his game. Rod Woodson was the first corner to bag 20 career forced fumbles, while Charles Woodson (2002, 2010) and Dre’ Bly (2002, 2003) were the first corners to finish in the top 5 twice.
But Tillman perfected the maneuver, leading the league once (2012), finishing in the top 5 another time (2009, 2nd) and in the top 10 in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Tillman led or tied for the lead among corners in six of his 13 seasons (including 2013, when he had three in eight games before a season-ending injury), and he is the only corner with more than three seasons of 4+ FFs. He has six.
Most noteworthy is that Tillman ranks sixth all-time for most forced fumbles, just 10 behind the career leader Robert Mathis. Every player ahead of Tillman, or tied with him, is a pass rusher, with five of those six (Mathis, Peppers, Freeney, Taylor, Doleman) either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or headed there.
Immediately after Tillman on the career list are more Hall of Fame pass rushers: Bruce Smith (43 FFs), Derrick Thomas (41), Rickey Jackson (40), Richard Dent (37). Next is Terrell Suggs, also with 37, and also a lock for PFHOF. Brian Dawkins is the next DB after Tillman, at 36, and Charles Woodson is the next corner after Tillman, tied at 19th all-time with 33 forced fumbles.
In other words, Charles Tillman forced fumbles at the clip of Hall of Fame pass rushers.
That’s another difference between Tillman and Dawkins & Woodson: they commonly rushed the quarterback, which likely led to more forced fumbles. Dawkins and Woodson each had 20+ sacks, while Tillman had three.
Forced fumbles vs. sacks for the top 3 FF DBs in NFL history:
- Charles Tillman: 44 / 3
- Brian Dawkins: 36 / 26
- Charles Woodson: 33 / 20
Of 24 cornerbacks against whom Peanut will be most judged, total combined interceptions, forced fumbles and recovered fumbles:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) August 10, 2018
1. @RodWoodson26, 123 (71+20+32)
2. @CharlesWoodson, 116 (65+33+18)
3. @RonnieLottHOF, 96 (63+16+17)
4. @peanuttillman, 94 (38+44+12)@WCGridiron pic.twitter.com/z41Tdl1wf8
Add it all up and it’s no wonder why coaches are teaching the Peanut Punch and DBs are studying it. The problem is that if you don’t do it properly, you’re just punching a guy. That, presumably, is what the NFL wants to deter.
And they want to deter it so badly that they told GMs and coaches not in the offseason but in the final month of the regular season.
Seems we could be seeing some championship-swinging Peanut Punches in the playoffs.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.