Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 16

CLEVELAND - AUGUST 22: Joshua Cribbs #16 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter of their NFL game in Cleveland Browns Stadium on August 22, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - AUGUST 22: Joshua Cribbs #16 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter of their NFL game in Cleveland Browns Stadium on August 22, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) /

The No. 16 for the Cleveland Browns was an undrafted former QB

The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 16 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 16: Josh Cribbs.

Josh Cribbs was signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent after failing to have his name called in the 2005 NFL draft. Cribbs, a duel-threat quarterback at Kent State, found himself without a position heading into the NFL. In order to make the Browns’ roster, Cribbs was going to have to make his mark on special teams.

He was able to win the kickoff returner role in training camp. Cribbs returned his first kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth game of the season against the Detroit Lions. He returned 45 kickoffs for a team-record 1,094 return yards. Cribbs would go on to break his own single-season kickoff return record an additional two times.

In his second season, Cribbs again handled the kickoff return duties. He shattered the record he set the previous season by returning 61 kickoffs for 1,494 yards. The speedster returned another kickoff for a touchdown, taking one 92 yards to the house against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to his special teams work, Cribbs also caught ten passes on offense for 91 yards.

In 2007, Cribbs was voted to his first Pro-Bowl as the AFC return specialist. He led the NFL in kickoff return yardage with 1,809 yards and his two kickoff return touchdowns also tied him with Browns’ legend Eric Metcalf for the single-season team record. Cribbs also began handling the punt return duties on a full-time basis and returned 30 punts for 405 yards and a touchdown. Cribbs set a Browns single-season record and led the NFL with 2,312 all-purpose yards in 2007.

By his fourth season, Cribbs was already the Browns all-time career leader in kickoff return yards with 4,397. He widely regarded as the best kickoff returner in the NFL. Cribbs did not do anything to hurt that stock as he again eclipsed the 1,000-yard kickoff return mark. Cribbs returned 44 kickoffs for 1,110 yards and a touchdown.

He the. had a career year in 2009. He returned 38 punts for 452 yards and a touchdown and 56 kickoffs for 1,542 yards and a league-leading three touchdowns. Cribbs offensive usage increased and he was able to score touchdowns as a runner and a receiver as well. The dynamic returner led the NFL in non-offensive touchdowns with four and broke his own single-season record for the Browns with 2,510 all-purpose yards. Cribbs was named a first-team all-pro for his exemplary play on special teams.

2010 was a down year for Cribbs. His usage as a returner dipped slightly as did his output. However, his involvement on the offensive side of the ball increased. He caught 23 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown.

Cribbs usage as a wide receiver hit an all-time high in 2011. He recorded 41 receptions for 518 yards and four touchdowns. His punt return numbers increased from the previous season, as he returned 34 punts for 388 and a touchdown. Cribbs also averaged 25 yards per kickoff return in 2011.

2012 would prove to be Cribbs’ last season as a member of the Browns. His offensive usage diminished greatly from 2011, but he rebounded as a top tier kickoff and punt returner. Cribbs returned 43 kickoffs for 1,178 yards and averaged 27.4 per return. He also returned 38 punts for a career-high 457 yards. Cribbs was voted to the Pro Bowl for his final time for his play as a return specialist.

One aspect of Cribbs’ game that often gets overlooked was his ability to cover kicks. He was an elite gunner and led the Browns in special team tackles in four of his eight seasons. It was not as flashy, but his willingness to run down kicks separated him from the other kick returners of his era.

Cribbs’ name is all over the Browns record books. His 10,015 kickoff return yards is a mark that will never be approached. Cribbs is also the Browns all-time leader with 2,154 punt return yards. His 11 total return touchdowns is also a Browns’ record that will never be eclipsed. Cribbs shares an NFL record with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Pro Football Hall of Fame named Cribbs to the 2000s All-Decade Team as a kickoff returner. Cribbs, along with Webster Slaughter, will be inducted into the Browns Legends Program this upcoming season.

Josh Cribbs gave fans hope every time he had the ball in his hands, and he is the best player to ever wear number 16 in the history of the Cleveland Browns.

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Honorable mentions: Milt Plum and Bill Nelson.