Panthers' Thomas Davis calls Charles Tillman the 'piece to take us over the top'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Outside linebacker Thomas Davis has no clue what name he’ll take to the podium when the Carolina Panthers make the 25th pick of the NFL draft next Thursday in Chicago.

But the reigning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year is confident the Panthers made the right call in signing 34-year-old cornerback Charles “Peanut" Tillman in free agency.

“With the veteran leadership he brings to the secondary, I feel like he’s that piece to take us over the top," said Davis, who revealed on Thursday that he will announce Carolina’s first pick.

Davis believes Tillman is a player that could put Carolina, at least defensively, in position to make a run at winning a Super Bowl that Davis keeps talking about as attainable this season.

If Tillman can stay healthy, which he hasn’t the past couple of seasons because of a torn triceps tendon, he gives the Panthers a veteran leader in a secondary that finished last season with two rookies as starters.

If he becomes the every-down starter at cornerback opposite Josh Norman, the Panthers can return 2014 rookie Bene' Benwikere back to the nickel back spot where the staff believes he is most effective.

“Knowing what kind of character he [has], knowing what kind of person he is, getting to know him the last two years I know he’s going to be huge for this team," Davis said.

Signing Tillman also was huge for Carolina’s draft plans. Having him on the roster lessens the sense of urgency to reach for a cornerback in the early rounds.

That’s why Davis could confidently say “best player available" when asked who he thought the Panthers would draft.

And while Davis is excited about the team goal he believes Tillman can help Carolina achieve, he’s also excited about helping Tillman reach a personal goal of 40 career interceptions and 40 career forced fumbles.

Tillman is at 36 interceptions and 42 forced fumbles. Since forced fumbles were officially recorded in 1994, no player has reached that 40-40 mark.

“As a defensive player, as a fan of this league, you sit back and watch what this guy has been able to do," Davis said. “We want to help him get those four interceptions he needs to become the first player to ever have 40 and 40."

“I don’t know if other guys on the team know that, but I pay close attention to that."

Davis also pays close attention to how Tillman prepares at an age when many players retire. At 32, Davis believes he and the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year are on the same page in terms of what it takes to lengthen a career.

“You can only feel as bad as you allow yourself to feel," Davis said. “If you come in and put the work in on a day to day basis, then you can keep up with the younger guys. You can continue to do things that you’ve done in the past. It’s all about the work you’re willing to put in.

“If you look at Peanut, his body of work, what he’s been able to do, he’s a truly hard worker, a guy that wants to succeed. That’s a lot like I am."

Davis is confident whatever name he takes to the podium, that player will exude that type of work ethic because that is a prerequisite for Carolina management during pre-draft evaluations.

If that player is from the defensive side, Davis is pretty sure he’ll benefit from learning the “Peanut Punch" – the nickname given to how Tillman forces fumbles.

“I’m excited myself to learn it," Davis said. “When you see what the guy’s been able to do, not only making interceptions, but the caused fumbles he has, it’s unbelievable to know that a guy can do that with guys knowing what he likes to do and he still can do it on a consistent level.

“There has to be something to that skill he has, so we want to learn it."