BGA: Scouting Josh Cribbs

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Earlier this week, the Jets signed free agent wide receiver/return specialist Joshua Cribbs to their active roster. Unlike some of the recent signings they’ve made, Cribbs is a fairly well-known player, but he is now into his thirties so it will be interesting to try and assess what he has left in the tank. We’ve therefore been looking at game footage in detail to investigate what he could bring to the table.

The 30-year old Cribbs is a 6’1″, 215 pound receiver who was an undrafted free agent in 2005 out of Kent State. He is best known for his kick returning abilities, which have seen him make three Pro Bowls and be named as an All-Pro on two occasions. His eight career kickoff returns for a touchdown have him tied for the NFL’s all-time record and he has also caught over 100 passes in his eight NFL seasons. However, he’s been dealing with some knee issues recently and this led to him being cut by the Browns and then also by the Raiders, who he had signed with in May.

After the jump, a review of Cribbs’ career and observations from having looked at film from the last few seasons to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Who is Josh Cribbs?

Josh Cribbs was an undrafted free agent in 2005 having played quarterback for Kent State. After signing with the Cleveland Browns, Cribbs made an immediate impact as a kick returner in his rookie season, averaging 24.5 yards per return and scoring one touchdown to earn himself a six-year contract extension.

He continued to put up good kick return numbers in his second season and then also took over as the team’s punt returner in 2007, leading the NFL in all-purpose yardage. While he had been used sparingly on offense over his first three seasons (11 carries, 14 catches) they increased his role in 2008 as he carried the ball 29 times for 167 yards – often out of the wildcat formation. The following year, he caught 20 passes, which was more than he had achieved in the first four years combined and had a career high 381 rushing yards. In 2010 and 2011 he didn’t have as much success as a runner but improved on his receiving numbers, peaking at 41 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. However, last year he did not see much action on offense and with the Raiders in preseason he was solely used as a kick returner.

The Numbers

Eight seasons
124 games
31 starts
107 catches, 1,161 yards, seven touchdowns
10.9 yards per catch
63% catch rate (last five seasons only)
10 drops
128-753-2TD rushing (5.9 average)
4-12-45-INT passing, sacked twice
Career kick return average 25.9 with eight touchdowns
Career punt return average 11.0 with three touchdowns
34 career fumbles (9 lost) – Four as a receiver, three as a runner, one as a passer, nine as a kickoff returner, 17 as a punt returner
103 career tackles, including 92 on special teams
23 20+ yard plays (17 as a receiver, six as a rusher) and two 40+ yard plays (both as a receiver)
34 40+ yard kickoff returns and eight 40+ yard punt returns

Observations

Based on all the footage watched, here was what Cribbs brings to the table, divided into categories:

Usage - Obviously Cribbs has been used in a variety of ways, eventually developing into more or less a full time wide receiver (playing 52% of the snaps in 2011). However, in 2012 his non-special teams work diminished and he played just 63 snaps, most of which were at the wide receiver position. He did take five snaps as a wildcat quarterback though. When lined up at receiver, he was primarily on the outside, playing in the slot just over 10% of the time in 2011.

Deep threat – Cribbs hasn’t been that productive on downfield throws, catching five of 23 passes thrown 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in the past five years per PFF. He has been able to get deep for some big plays, as seen in the examples here and here, although the first of those was more of a coverage breakdown and the second was over three years ago. He was not targeted more than 20 yards downfield in 2012.

Blocking - For a converted quarterback, Cribbs is a surprisingly good blocker. He actually graded out as the third best blocking wide receiver in the NFL in 2009. The Browns often used bunch formations or motioned him onto the tight end’s shoulder and he did a good job of driving linebackers to the inside or making blocks at the second level by hustling and being physical.

Routes - Browns fans grew frustrated with Cribbs’ “sloppy route running” as the Browns used him more and more in a receiver role and that may have factored into his drop in playing time last year. From what I saw, he was most effective when running a go route or a crossing route, but anything that required a change of direction was more hit and miss. He also sometimes allowed cornerbacks to get physical with him in press coverage to prevent him from getting where he wanted to go.

Hands - Although he has a respectable catch rate and only 10 drops in the last five seasons, Cribbs’ hands can be very inconsistent, some of which were due to poor concentration. The catch rate is artificially inflated by the number of short passes they throw him. That includes 20 screen passes for 172 yards over the past four years. With that said, he is capable of making athletic catches by going up to get it or laying out to make a diving grab like this one. Fumbles are a concern, as he’s racked up 34 over the course of his career, although a good proportion of these were muffed kick or punt returns that he recovered himself.

Instincts – As a runner, his instincts are terrific. However, when playing wide receiver, he lacks experience and this can affect things like adjusting his route in response to the coverage or reacting to a quick pass when he’s the hot read.

Yards after the catch – Clearly this is an area where Cribbs’ return skills can be utilized and that has proven to be the case. His highest rank was 6th in the league for YAC per reception in 2010 and has always been well above average statistically. He forced 10 missed tackles on 41 catches in 2011.

Special Teams – Cribbs’ special teams contributions are not just confined to the return game. He’s also capable of being extremely productive in kick coverage and as a punt gunner. He is a solid open field tackler, missing just two tackles since 2009. However, it’s in the return game where he shines brightest. His 2012 numbers were really good (27.4 yards per kick return and 12.0 per punt return) but his most recent body of work in preseason was underwhelming. On seven returns, his longest was 27 yards and he lost a fumble.

Demeanor - Brady Quinn this week described Cribbs as a “tremendous teammate”. By all accounts, he has a good attitude and is a hard worker. There was a minor controversy in terms of a contract dispute and a dissatisfaction with his playing time last year, but no serious off-field issues.

Injuries – Cribbs’ knee was obviously a problem, because the Jets and Cardinals both balked at the chance of signing him back in May. However, they are apparently satisfied he’s good to go now. Until then, he’d been fortunate in terms of injuries, missing just two games since his rookie season and four overall.

Conclusions

It’s a testament to Cribbs’ athletic skills that he was able to be so productive as a receiver despite the fact that he is clearly very raw technically, but I’m always impressed by guys that will hustle, make an effort as a blocker and fight for yardage. The question now becomes whether there’s any realistic chance of him being able to be that kind of player again or is he past his use-by date?

Based on how he was used in preseason and his diminishing offensive role last year, my expectation would be that the main reason the Jets brought in Cribbs was simply to return kicks with both Mike Goodson and Clyde Gates headed to injured reserve.

However, the Jets’ offense is designed to get its playmakers the ball in space and Cribbs is capable of being exactly the kind of playmaker that could thrive in such situations. While I don’t anticipate a main-rotation role for Cribbs on offense (unless there are even more injuries at the wideout position), I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Jets install some special packages which involve him, even if only for a couple of snaps a game.

Failing that, they needed a reliable kick returner and Cribbs has been exactly that (and usually more) even as recently as last year. Let’s hope he can contribute well to the Jets’ return game where – let’s face it – he doesn’t have much to live up to if he’s going to provide any kind of an upgrade.

Note: The Jets also added wide receiver Greg Salas this week, but since he’s injured, we’ll delay his BGA until next weekend.

Some stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.