Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears and Josh Cribbs of the Browns are easily the two best kick returners in the NFL. Therefore, it came as no surprise that both were listed as All-Pro players for 2007. Hester was on the First Team while Cribbs grabbed the spot on the Second Team. Hester is a name that is recognized more among casual football fans and commentators (on ESPN especially) mention the Bears’ star returner on a normal basis without always including Cribbs in the conversation. At this point, after this being Cribbs’ first season in the “spotlight,” the debate should be brewing about who is a better returner.
Both are prolific playmakers, able to shift the momentum in games and give both of their respective teams a chance to win. Fans may underestimate the true value of field position until they see Cribbs or Hester streaking down the field, giving the offense the ball at, say, the opponent’s 45 rather than their own 30. But in order to find a potentially better player, one must look at the stats (as always):
Kick Returns (2007):
Cribbs essentially dominates kick returns, thanks to the worst defense in the NFL. He accumulated nearly twice the amount of yards as Hester and more than twice as many returns that made it past 20 yards. Additionally, he has five more runs of 40+ yards.
Punt Returns (2007):
Much like Cribbs in the last category, Hester owns all the stats for punt returns. The most glaring statistic is Hester’s touchdown total, four to Cribbs’ one. Nevertheless, it’s not the obvious choice to choose Hester as the best player. Part of his selection to the First Team goes with the fact that his name is plastered all over the national media outlets and it’s he who people know (even though Cribbs has been playing longer with good seasons to show for it). Another part of his selection is Devin Hester’s touchdown total, which is twice that of Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs is a great all-around player, which means this will not be his only selection to the All-Pro team. All of this isn’t to say that making the Second Team isn’t worth noting, because it is. This is just to show that the stats were closer than people would like to think. Granted, Hester played on a Bears team with a decent defense (thus, more punt returns) and Cribbs played on a team with a fairly atrocious defense for most of the season (thus, more kick returns). Teams also did their best to kick away from both players. With all of these outside forces, how can we choose the best player? It’s the kind of stuff that can make one’s mind run around in circles.
Did Josh Cribbs deserve the First Team award over Devin Hester? Take out the touchdowns and the answer can go either way, most likely in Cribbs’ direction. I think he did deserve it more this year than Hester, and that is because I feel kick returns are slightly more important than punt returns. For most of those kick returns, it was after the opposing team scored, forcing the Browns to strike back and match whatever the other team scored. The third-year Pro Bowler out of Kent State continually gave the Browns excellent field position, sparking the comebacks the team was known for in 2007.
- Two other Browns made the All-Pro Second Team on offense: Braylon Edwards and Phil Dawson