Earlier today, ESPN rated the top 10 versatile players in the AFC and the NFC. Although most of the players who were listed came from the offensive side of the ball, there were a few defensive players listed for their ability to return kicks or play at a high-level in different defensive packages.
I think it's safe to say that Joshua Cribbs is still a versatile player, even though his effectiveness took a hit last season. The Wildcat is virtually a non-threat, and the kickoff rule negated much of what Cribbs could do. Injuries have also played a role in slowing him down. With that said, due to his past reputation, Cribbs is an easy player for the media to rank on a list such as this. Cribbs was ranked sixth in the AFC, behind Tim Tebow, Reggie Bush, Aaron Hernandez, Nate Solder, and Haloti Ngata:
6. Josh Cribbs, WR, Cleveland Browns
He remains one of the most respected return specialists in the NFL, although his big plays the last two seasons have really dropped off. He has explosiveness as a punt and kickoff returner, but where he has really improved is his production as a receiver, as evidenced by his 41 receptions last year. Although he doesn't get many carries as a traditional running back, he has the capability of running some Wildcat-type schemes.
You would think that Cribbs' NFC counterpart, Devin Hester, would be ranked higher in the NFC after having more success. That isn't the case. Hester is also ranked sixth in his conference:
6. Devin Hester, WR, Chicago Bears
He may be the best return specialist in the history of the NFL, but he is still trying to make a bigger contribution as a receiver. Before that happens, though, his hands and route-running consistency need to improve. He led the NFL in punt return average in 2011 (16.2 yards), but his kickoff return production fell off a little bit (21.9-yard average). He will likely be the fourth receiver in this upgraded passing game (26 receptions a year ago), and if Chicago can get him the ball in space, he is very capable of turning a short pass into a big play. Look for the coaches to design more screen plays and reverses to get him the ball.
Looking through the NFC's list, it's not a surprise to see a guy like Darren Sproles at No. 1. It is a little surprising to see Ted Ginn Jr ranked one spot ahead of Hester, though, even if he did come on strong as a return man toward the end of last year.