Imagine playing college football and dominating for four years straight and not being drafted on any of the three days during the NFL Draft. You give it your all on a year in, year out basis yet it still wasn’t enough. That is pretty scary and nerve racking right?
Okay imagine going to college for four years and you have invested a lot of time and money into your future. You study hard, even pull all-nighters, and you go the extra mile to get good grades, but you struggle finding the dream job you yearned for after graduating.
That is what Josh Cribbs was faced with after going undrafted in 2005 out of Kent State. At, 6’1”, 215 pounds, he was a nightmare at quarterback. All Cribbs did was finish with the most total yardage (10,839) in school history as well as touchdowns (86). In addition, he was the only player in NCAA history to lead his team in passing and rushing for four straight seasons.
When the Cleveland Browns gave him a shot to make his dream come true, Cribbs, ironically, took it and ran with it.
The Kent State product made a transition from quarterback to receiver, but his calling card came as a special teamer. From day one, he was a threat as the Browns’ return specialist. Cribbs wasn’t the blazer Devin Hester was and he wasn’t as compact as Dante Hall, but he was like a freight train. Once he found the sliver of daylight he was looking for, he would slowly pick up speed and reach pay dirt. By the time he got to midfield, defenders were better off running to the stadium’s parking lot and hoping they could catch him in a car.
Cribbs broke the Browns’ franchise record in return yards (1,094) as a rookie. In 2006, he broke his own record. Guess what he did in 2007? If you said, “he broke his own record again”, then you are correct as he compiled 1,809 yards and two touchdowns with a 30.7 average per return. Cribbs even assumed duties as a punt returner in which he scored a touchdown in that same year. He earned a Pro Bowl nod that year. Two years later, for a fifth straight season he went over 1,000 yards as a kick returner. He earned First Team All-Pro as well as being named a Pro Bowler for his efforts.
Cribbs would go on to earn one more Pro Bowl nod in 2012, his sixth 1,000-yard campaign as a returner. Teams started to kick away from him and rule changes allowed opposing kickers to eliminate him from the game by kicking it through the end zone for a touchback. He started to age and bounced around from Oakland to New York to Indianapolis before retiring in 2017 with Cleveland.
The undrafted return specialist has a litany of memories as he torched many teams in limited action on the field. He would only touch the ball maybe four or five times a game.
He went 90 yards before scoring. The Baltimore Ravens, in 2007, gave up 245 return yards as well as a 61-yard punt return. In his twilight year in 2012, he torched the New York Giants for a total of 221 yards. However, none of those was his best moment though.
One of the most important things as kick returner is to well catch the kick. The Pittsburgh Steelers elected it to kick the ball low and away from Cribbs forcing him to chase the oblong ball. It took him longer than he may have liked before he corralled it, but what happened next was nothing short of a miracle.
Cribbs picked it up, all cool, calm, and collected, and made the first guy miss. He could go on to cut between three men before being shoved by another Steeler. Now, most guys would go out of bounds there, but I wouldn’t be telling you this if Cribbs was just an average joe. He managed to tight rope down the sideline before receiving a bone-chilling block by a teammate that sprung him free. 40 yards later, Cribbs had a convoy leading him to the end zone. The people at Heinz Field were in dismay.
That was truly one of the best plays of this generation.
After retiring, Cribbs finds himself placed highly in certain statistics. His 13,488 kick and punt return yardage places him at third all-time as well as his 11,113 kick return yardage alone. He is tied for first all-time with eight kick return touchdowns. Everyone says the aforementioned Hester is a Hall of Famer. The same could be said for Cribbs as he is ahead of him in all three categories.
As a runner and pass catcher, Cribbs finished with a total of 1,983 yards and nine touchdowns to put a stamp on his entire career.
These days Cribbs is back working with a team he spent majority of his career with. The Browns hired him as a special teams intern so he could be transitioning to life as a coach. In addition, he is being a family man with a wife and two children.
The former Browns’ star went undrafted, but he did not let that define him. It was simply a defining point that helped shape his career.
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Image credit: USA Today