CLEVELAND — From starring at Kent State to an All-Pro career with the Cleveland Browns, Josh Cribbs has been a staple of Northeast Ohio football for the better part of the last two decades.
Could the former Pro Bowl kick returner's next stop be Canton?
On Thursday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame released its list of the 122 Modern Era players who have been nominated to join its 2020 class. And in doing so, it revealed Cribbs had made the cut as a first-time nominee, joining the likes of Troy Polamalu, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, John Abraham, Reggie Wayne, Lance Briggs and Maurice Jones-Drew as a first-year candidate.
A native of Washington D.C., Cribbs spent his college career playing quarterback at Kent State, where he set school records for total offense (10,839), rushing touchdowns (38) and passing yards (7,169). Despite his success with the Golden Flashes, he went undrafted in 2005 before signing as a free agent with the Browns.
It didn't take long for Cribbs to find his niche at this next level, as he emerged as Cleveland's top kick returner to make the team's roster as a rookie. In his first season with the Browns, he set the team's franchise record for kick return yards with 1,094 -- a mark he would proceed to surpass five times over the course of his eight seasons with the team, in which he totaled 10,015 kick return yards and 8 kick return touchdowns -- an NFL record he shares with Leon Washington.
After spending a season apiece with the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, Cribbs completed his 10-year career ranking third in NFL history in kick return yards (11,113). In addition to his kick return stats, Cribbs added 2,154 yards and 3 touchdowns on punt returns and tallied 110 receptions for 1,175 yards and 7 touchdowns, as well as 808 rushing yards and 2 scores on the ground.
Over the course of his 10-year career, Cribbs amassed 3 Pro Bowl selections, was twice named first-team All-Pro and was chosen by the first-team kick returner on the NFL's all-decade team for the 2000s. Yet despite his status as one of the best kick returners in NFL history, he could be fighting an uphill battle in getting inducted, as no player whose primary contributions came on special teams has ever been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, it's worth noting that earlier this year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that beginning in 2020, it would expand its induction classes to include as many as 20 members. As many as five modern-era players could be inducted by the 48 selection committee voters, while as many as 15 additional inductees could be chosen by a 25-member committee that will include Hall of Famers, historians and current voters.
Previously, the Hall of Fame had limited its classes to eight inductees per year.
With 122 nominees listed, the next step in the Hall of Fame selection process will be to have the list cut to 25 semifinalists in November.
In addition to Cribbs, former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews has once again been nominated after being named a semifinalist for the 2019 class, as have former Browns running back Earnest Byner and kick returner Eric Metcalf.