We miss Phil Dawson. We all do.
He was Mr. Dependable for the Cleveland Browns as far as needing a kicker to make plays and score points with the game on the line. Oddly enough, when Sashi Brown became the new GM of Cleveland, he never even offered #4 a new deal even though his contract was up.
But Dawson, along with Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr and Lou “The Toe” Groza, are at the top of the pinnacle when we talk about Browns’ kickers. Groza still remains the franchise leader in scoring with 1,608 points in a time when they only played 12 games.
In this year’s draft, the Browns had traded away a lot of their draft picks in the Deshaun Watson trade. So with so few picks, they had to make their decisions become winners.
Both kicker and punter were an issue. Only LS Charley Hughlett was a mainstay on special teams. During the free agency period, GM Andrew Berry signed Corey Bojorquez away from Green Bay. One down - one more position to fill.
In the draft, Berry selected CB M.J. Emerson with his first pick of the draft in Round 3. Also in the same round, DE Alex Wright and WR David Bell were taken.
Berry had two picks in Round 4. Three spots in, he chose DT Perrion Winfrey who played a position of great need. What position was next that needed to be addressed? Backup offensive tackle, safety, outside linebacker perhaps? Instead at pick #124, the Browns took the very first specialist off the board: K Cade York of LSU.
York had proven in college that he was clutch. He was a three-year starter so the experience was there. His average of making 81.8% of career field goal attempts was a bit misleading. As a freshman, he had missed six of 27 attempts which made his career average smaller. York only missed six field goals in his sophomore and junior years – combined. And three of those misses were from very long range.
The LSU kicker also had not missed a single PAT in his final two seasons. He scored 326 points during his educational institution days and was considered the best kicker in college football. He even nailed a 57-yarder in a dense fog to beat Florida on the road.
York was the first LSU kicker to make two field goals of 50 yards or longer in a single game.
For his efforts, he was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and was also selected Second Team All-SEC as he was responsible for 152 points scored. That 2020 season, LSU won the National Championship.
In scouting reports, words such as “dependable,” “clutch,” “huge leg,” and “cool under pressure” were used consistently.
After taking York in the draft, Berry stated:
“It was a big priority for us this off-season to make sure that we had added some competition and talent to the kicking game. I think that is something that, coming out of last year, we thought we could make improvements, and we are certainly excited about some of the individuals who we have added to the roster.”
From training camp to AFC Special Teams Player of the Week
York was the darling of Browns training camp. He was consistent right off and remained that way. It was obvious that Cleveland now had their new Phil Dawson. They had questions about a journeyman QB at the helm for the first two months but at kicker? Check that box as solved.
By the end of training camp, York was voted the 2022 Maurice Bassett Award winner as the team’s most outstanding rookie in training camp. The award is voted by the media and was named in honor of RB Maurice Bassett, who played for the Browns from 1954-56.
He was referred to as the “Poor Man’s Justin Tucker.” You could have just watched his LSU film and known he was that dude.
In Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, all worries that York was going to be that dude were confirmed.
York made his first kick, an extra point after a one-yard Kareem Hunt touchdown. Right before the half, the Browns drove the field and sent York out for a field goal attempt. The 26-yarder was good. He added a 34-yarder in Quarter #3 as the Browns built a 20-7 lead. With just over six minutes to play, York nailed a 36-yard field goal.
But Carolina came back and went ahead 24-23 with 1:13 remaining. Cleveland moved the ball to the Panthers’ 49 before a Jacoby Brissett pass to Amari Cooper added nine yards to the 40. Out trots York. 40 plus 10 plus 8 equals a 58-yard attempt.
In his first NFL game. On the road. As a rookie.
And yes, he made it for the victory. The game-winner was the second-longest game-winning field goal by a rookie in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime in NFL history.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski stated:
“That is a rare performance for a rookie, as we all know. Pretty unprecedented for him to go do that. Just going to continue to grow with him.”
York was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. That distinction placed him in a class as the fifth rookie in NFL history to win Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 1. He’s the first Browns player to win the award since P Jamie Gillian in Week 2 in 2019 and the first Browns kicker to earn the honor since Phil Dawson won in Week 15 in 2005.
And with that, York and Dawson were somehow melded together.
Kinks in the Armor
Cleveland is an analytics team. And often, analytics state that the percentages of going for it on fourth down near midfield are greater than attempting a long field goal or punt.
How many times in the 2021 season did the Browns move into enemy territory only to have the drive stall, then attempt a fourth-and-whatever? And how many times was QB Baker Mayfield sacked instead?
Wasn’t it frustrating to see that? What if this squad had a long-range kicker instead? Fourth-and-six at the opponent’s 37? Or attempt a 54-yard field goal for points instead?
Suddenly, Stefanski had options.
In the next three games, York did not miss a single field goal as he went 4-4. However, in Week 2 against the New York Jets, he shanked an extra point. The Browns lost by one point.
Back in his freshman year at LSU, York had endured a lot of criticism for missing six field goals, but more importantly, he missed five PATs. York had decided that fans and his classmates could second guess why a long field goal wasn’t converted, but he hated the harsh criticism of what seemed like a simple conversion for a single point and yet wasn’t converted. His focus was to never miss an extra point again.
So here he was in his second-ever NFL contest, and he sent wide an extra point. Kink #1.
In the following game against Pittsburgh, York missed another PAT although the lost point did not result in a loss. Plication #2.
A much wider crack began to form in Week 5 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Cleveland was up 21-17 just before the half against a very good club. Starting at their own 28, the drive stalled on the Chargers’ 27-yard line. York set up for a makeable 45-yarder, yet pulled it to the right. In pre-game warmups, every kick he missed was wide right.
After LA went up 30-28, the offense for Cleveland had one last drive with 1:10 remaining. After six plays, the Browns set up shop on the Chargers’ 35. Down by two. 54 yards. Out came York again. And again, he pulled it right. 4-4 in PATs, yet 0-2 in field goals.
During the week after the loss to Los Angeles, special teams coach Mike Priefer stated:
“(York’s) in a good place mentally. He kicked the ball really well Wednesday. He’s never really lost his confidence. He’s just as disappointed as any one of us, as any one of our fans.”
The questions began. Was York a college big fish in a medium-sized pond? Is the NFL stage too big for him? After all, in college, a scholarship is all that is on the line. In the NFL, you are paid to make field goals and win games. And kickers are the most traveled positions in the league. York now faced Dent #3.
Kickers are a funny lot. They are a lot like relief pitchers in that they come into the game for one purpose only and are expected to produce. Nobody else on the roster can do what they do. And their position adds points to the scoreboard.
And when a kicker goes into a slump, the entire team suffers. Sure the weather is always a factor – especially in Cleveland and every other AFC North stadium.
There is a list of all the available kickers who are currently free agents. How many of these guys run, work out and kick at some high school field on a consistent basis waiting for the phone to ring? The answer is all of them.
York bounced back against New England the following game after the Chargers’ loss. He made kicks from 39, 48 and 51 yards.
Into the fourth quarter against division foe Baltimore in Week 7, the Browns were down 23-20 when they got the ball back with 3:12 to play. A third-and-five was converted with a 37-yard gain by Donovan Peoples-Jones. A Cooper touchdown catch was called back with offensive pass interference. Two plays later the drive stopped at the 37. A false start moved it back five. York then attempted a 60-yard field goal. Defender Malik Harrison lept over Hughlett and blocked the kick for the win. Another ding to the Armour to those keeping score at #4.
But look closer at these games: lost to the Jets by one as York missed a PAT, was beaten by two by the Chargers as York missed two three-pointers, defeated by Baltimore by two points and York missed a field goal.
Those are just three games. Cleveland is currently 4-7-0. Flip those games and, with the return of Watson, the standings would indicate a 7-4-0 record instead. Right now, even if the club ran the table to finish with 10 wins, those losses to AFC teams would most certainly come into play with tiebreakers.
Did York lose those three games? Of course not. It is a team game with missed tackles, overthrown passes, blown assignments, missed blocks, bad routes, and clogged running lanes. And York cannot block on-rushing defenders who jump up and block his attempt.
In other games, a 53-yard attempt was blocked on Cleveland’s first possession in the blowout win over Cincinnati. York missed a 34-yarder which was also blocked against Buffalo. Neither of these kicks affected the final outcome.
It’s just unnatural for a kicker to have three blocked kicks in a single season – and the league has played just 11 games. Perhaps the up-front blockers are misplaced and need to be re-arranged. Or what if York took a half-yard or even a yard further back? There is no set rule that the ball must be placed seven or eight yards back. If nine yards is what keeps the ball from having a chance to be converted to three points, then maybe that is the fix.
As far as stats, York is ranked 13th in touchbacks (35) on the kickoff with an average placement of minus-6. As a point scorer, he is ranked 17th. York is 22nd in field goal success (with kickers 20+ attempts) at 73.9%. He has the 11th most attempts and 17th most successful kicks.
It’s a common thing for a kicker to hook a ball that sails off right or left. Both missed kicks against the Chargers trailed off to the right.
But a shank? That is a different animal.
A shank occurs for two reasons: the holder does not move the laces out of the way, or the kicker lands his foot on the side of the ball instead of at the base of the football.
In the win over Tampa Bay, Cleveland went up 10-7 and was driving for more points when a 10-play drive stalled at the Bucs’ 21. Facing a fourth-and-17, Stefanski called for field goal team. York lined up for the 39-yarder. The pass from Hughlett was true, punter Bojorquez spun the ball correctly with the right tilt that York requires, then York connected with the ball. On the right side of the football to be exact.
One of the worst field goal attempts anyone who watches football can remember. The kick went way left into the stands for a souvenir. Yeh, that far left. It was exactly four seats, then an aisle, then 10 seats and then into the second aisle over past the left upright. Kink #5ish.
NFL.com wrote a headline “Cade York’s 39-yard FG attempt couldn’t be more off.”
But what now? What happened to all that consistency stuff? Can York be trusted? Should management start auditioning other kickers?
Stefanski gave his take on York’s issues:
“With a young player, you kind of just focus on getting better each day. Not losing confidence in him. He is not losing confidence in himself. Not an easy place to kick in. We will be counting on him next week and the week after that type thing.”
As the holder, Bojorquez spends quite a bit of time with York. He stated on cleveland.com:
“(York) shows up to work every day just ready to get better. Today’s not going to change that.”
The Browns’ kicker has a personality that is on an even keel despite the pressures that the position ultimately receives. York knows how to adjust his technique and find his method of attack on the ball.
His inability to become rattled is one reason Cleveland drafted him. The powers-that-be still have confidence in him.
Remember, as a freshman at LSU, York missed six kicks. Through 11 games he is 17 of 23. That is six missed kicks. As a rookie in this league.
In Dawson’s rookie year he had a 66.7% field goal success. Rookie kickers have to learn this game at the most elite level and are usually not great at first.
Just maybe, if everyone is patient, having York on this roster will be a huge plus as he becomes seasoned in the professional ranks.
After all, Berry bet a fourth-round pick on him.