Return man Josh Cribbs was one of the best in the NFL during his seasons with the Browns. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Josh Cribbs is 30 years old and now four seasons removed from his last of two selections as an All-Pro return specialist for the Cleveland Browns.
So Cribbs certainly is on the downhill slope of his NFL career.
Yet Cribbs – who signed a one-year deal with the Raiders this offseason – remains one of the best return men in the NFL and his addition should be an enormous upgrade for Oakland in 2013.
This week, ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West, ranked Cribbs No. 2 in his ratings of AFC West return men, behind only Denver’s Trindon Holliday. Wrote Williamson: “Free-agent addition should help if he is healthy. He has a great resume.”
In fact, Cribbs last season was selected to his third Pro Bowl and his first since 2009. His return stats for the Browns dwarfed the Raiders’ cumulative team return stats.
In 2012, the Raiders had 935 yards on kickoff returns, an average of 22.3 yards per return and zero touchdowns. Cribbs had 1,178 yards and a 27.3-yard average with a long of 74 yards (but no TDs). On punts, the Raiders had a paltry 173 yards in returns, a 5.1 average; Cribbs had 457 yards, a 12.0 average.
Though Cribbs also is a wide receiver and could contribute at that position this coming season, it’s as a kick and punt returner that the eight-year veteran from Kent State could make his biggest impact.
In his career, Cribbs has 11 career return TDs (eight on kickoffs, three on punts).
Cribbs, who had played his entire career with the Browns, had considered signing with several other teams until deciding to come to Oakland.
“Josh felt they could utilize his skill set the best, both as a returner and a receiver,” his agent, J.R. Rickert, told the Associated Press when Cribbs signed. “He views them as an upstart team that has a chance to compete in the division, and I think it’s a great fit for everybody.”
Tweeted Cribbs on the day of his signing: “I am blessed to have the opportunity to prove myself yet again! Fresh start, new team, new chip on my shoulder!!!!”
Marc Sessler, Around the League editor for NFL.com, says Cribbs’ versatile skill set could prove to be incredibly valuable for the Raiders.
“Cribbs wasn’t a standout pass-catcher in Cleveland’s West Coast offense over the past two seasons, but he arguably hasn’t been used correctly since Eric Mangini coached the Browns,” wrote Sessler. “Those teams saw Cribbs take direct snaps and operate as Mr. Everything for a franchise lacking star power. He was a fan favorite there from Day One.”
In 2009, Cribbs was voted NFL Special Teams Player of the Year, when he was a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. That season, he had 1,542 yards on kickoffs with three TDs and had 452 yards on punts with another TD. He also carried the ball 55 times for 381 yards and a TD and had 20 receptions, including one that went for a score.
The addition of Cribbs could be a low-cost, high-impact addition for 2013 by general manager Reggie McKenzie. And, if Jacoby Ford – another terrific return man -- is again healthy, the Raiders would have the best tandem of returners in the division.