Humphrey may be the best 'peanut puncher' since Charles Tillman originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
During his 13-year NFL career, and specifically in the years in which he anchored some talented Chicago Bears defenses, cornerback Charles Tillman became well-known for his ability to force a fumble at any time.
No matter how secure the ball was in the carrier's hands, Tillman had a knack for getting his hand in there with one swift punch and sending the pigskin out into the open field. He did it so often that the move is now referred to as the "Peanut Punch." Peanut is Tillman's nickname, which he says originated because his grandmother thought he looked like a peanut at birth.
While the cornerback is no longer playing, the "Peanut Punch" is still alive and well. Numerous cornerbacks and other defenders have mimicked Tillman's special skill, including the Ravens' Marlon Humphrey.
The fourth-year cornerback and 2019 All-Pro leads the AFC with four forced fumbles in just six games in 2020. He's not afraid to admit his performance was influenced by what Tillman used to do on the field.
"The ‘Peanut Punch’ is something I really take to heart," Humphrey said on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown. "It’s a thing that I think a lot of corners are, you know, all adding to their game.”
Humphrey first remembers attempting the punch last October against the Steelers. With the game tied at 23 late in the fourth, he was trying to create a spark on defense.
As he tracked down wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the opportunity was there.
"JuJu had ran an over route and catches the ball, I hit it," Humphrey said. "The ball is just bouncing slowly and I’m like ‘I think I can get the ball’”
Baltimore did get the ball, and the fumble help set up a game-winning field goal against their rivals. It would be the first of many 'peanut punches' for Humphrey.
Though he's not the only modern defender to use the technique, Humphrey's success at forcing the ball out has earned him a reputation as someone who can emulate Tillman's prowess for forcing turnovers. A large reason for that is because of how the cornerback attacks the football.
It's easier for a defender to force the ball loose when coming from behind, as the player is unaware. Yet, Humphrey has no problem doing it with the runner coming toward him. With a powerful punch, no tight hold of the football can guarantee an offensive player won't cough it up.
“He is so good at that in front of the man and punching the ball out. It’s amazing, we used to talk about punch and then rake. But he punches the ball so hard that it just comes out," ESPN Analyst and former NFL head coach Rex Ryan said. "All you gotta do is get some kind of movement.”
Additionally, Humphrey isn't just swinging for the fences when he goes to punch. Unlike others, he's still focused on making sure the play stops there even if the ball doesn't come loose.
"That other hand. You don’t see Marlon Humphrey punch and miss tackles," former NFL linebacker and ESPN analyst Teddy Bruschi said. "You’ll see, almost simultaneously the other hand coming around to wrap the waist in case he misses.”
Humphrey's knack for finding the football and making something happen has begun to look eerily similar to Tillman's work. While it's hard for anyone to do what "Peanut" did, some believe Humphrey is the guy to carry on the tradition.
“I’ve never seen a guy better than Peanut Tillman, maybe until right now," Ryan said.
Tillman himself is fine with that. The move has his name tied to it and he set the foundation for the next generation of defenders.
Still, he wants to make sure that Humphrey and others know that whenever they go for the punch, they have him to thank,
“On second thought, Marlon, send me those royalty checks," Tillman said. "And, you’re welcome.”