Joe Thomas is widely regarded as the best player to suit up for the Cleveland Browns since the team returned to the NFL.
But while Thomas was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, the player who might second on that list never even had his named called during draft weekend.
The Cleveland Browns signed Josh Cribbs as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2005. Despite being the school’s all-time leader in total offense (10,839 yards), most completions in a season (216) and highest completion percentage in a season (64.3), and second in career passing yards (7,169) and passing touchdowns (45), Cribbs had to earn his roster spot as a kick returner.
It was a role that Cribbs excelled at in a way that few have in NFL history.
During his 10-year career, Cribbs earned three trips to the Pro Bowl and retired with eight kickoff return touchdowns, tying him for the most in league history, the third-most return yards (13,488), third-most kickoff return yards (11,113) and the fifth-most return touchdowns (11).
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He also rewrote the record books during his eight years with the Browns as he holds 11 franchise records, according to the team’s website, returned 11 kicks for touchdowns (eight on punts and three on kickoffs), had 10,015 kickoff return yards (tops in franchise history and 6,830 yards ahead of second-place Dino Hall), and 2,154 punt return yards (tops in franchise history).
In addition to excelling as a returner, Cribbs added 753 rushing yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and seven touchdowns.
Cribbs enjoyed tormenting the Pittsburgh Steelers as he had three career kickoff returns for touchdowns against the Steelers, but his greatest game may have come on December 20, 2009, when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
There may never be another player like Cribbs, which makes him the clear choice among a crowded field as the best player to wear No. 16 in franchise history.
(Very) Honorable mention: Quarterback Milt Plum, who made the Pro Bowl twice during his four seasons as the starter. Plum led the NFL in completion percentage three times, as well as passer rating once. He is seventh on the franchise’s all-time list in career passing yards and sixth in career touchdown passes.
Quarterback Bill Nelsen, who led the Browns to the playoffs four times and to the NFL title game in both 1968 and 1969. Nelsen is sixth on the franchise’s all-time list in career passing yards and fifth in career touchdown passes.
Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who led the team in receiving yards in 2014. Injuries cut his time with the Browns short, but Hawkins made the most of his ability during his NFL career.
Who is the best player to wear No. 16 in Browns history?
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