The Cleveland Browns have had some very good kickers throughout their history.
Then there is Phil Dawson.
Dawson played in Cleveland from 1999-2012 and remains a Browns legend.
He was around long enough to score the first points for the “new” Browns in 1999 and surpass Groza for the most field goals made in team history with 305.
Ever since Dawson left Cleveland after the ‘12 season, the franchise has been desperately trying to find his replacement.
Like a revolving door, a plethora of kickers have come and gone in the intervening years.
In the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Browns drafted Cade York from LSU.
The Bengals do not make the Super Bowl run without Evan McPherson.
The Browns haven't had consistent kicking since 2012 with Phil Dawson.
Chase McLaughlin made 40% of his kicks from 40-49 yards in 2021.
Cade York is a great pick every day of the week. pic.twitter.com/CYwY1a7di6
— Nick Karns (@karnsies817) May 1, 2022
That selection marked the highest a kicker has gone in the draft since 2016.
Now come the lofty expectations that York will be consistent enough to help Cleveland win games and return to the playoffs.
In short, can Cade York become the next Phil Dawson?
When Dawson arrived in Cleveland in 1999, he had already been cast off as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.
As the expansion Browns weathered the lean years, Dawson became a steady hand to help the team score much-needed points.
In fact, at times, Dawson was the only reliable scorer on the team.
By the time 2012 arrived, Dawson was a seasoned vet and team leader for an organization that had seen the playoffs only once during his Browns career.
— Michael Killi (@MikeKilli) September 14, 2020
His departure from Cleveland was a sore spot for the local media and fans who believed the franchise was wrong for letting him go to San Francisco.
They were correct and the Browns’ kicking game hasn’t been the same since.
Thankfully, York doesn’t need to be a team leader, yet.
With the likes of Myles Garrett, Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward, Cleveland has a wealth of solid leadership.
However, York will have to perform when the going gets tough.
Faltering early and often will put the rookie on thin ice with his established colleagues.
Cold Weather Hero?
Cleveland is a cold place in the winter and Dawson was able to keep the Browns in games by connecting on field goal attempts despite the weather conditions.
Recent kickers have commented that field goal attempts made toward the Dawg Pound section of FirstEnergy Stadium are rather brutal.
“It’s kind of unpredictable,” said Browns kicker Austin Seibert in 2019. “I talked to Phil (Dawson) about it and he’s given me some insight on it. The stadium’s changed since he’s been here I guess. But really, the winds out of the south and southwest are gonna be what stirs up that Dawg Pound end. Just kind of unpredictable.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has also noted Dawson’s recommendations for kicking the ball at that end of the stadium.
“Phil just said hit your true ball,” said Priefer in 2019. “You hit a true ball, and sometimes you can’t really determine what the winds are going to do or would even guess what they might do. I think at the end of the day, you have to practice it, you have to go down there and keep working on it.”
York grew up in Texas and kicked footballs for the Tigers in southern Louisiana.
He made 56 of his 66 attempts at LSU, good for 81.8%.
However, in three years, the furthest north York kicked was in Missouri and Kentucky.
Browns new PK Cade York said on 850 ESPN Cleveland that he intends to reach out soon to Phil Dawson for the lowdown on kicking in Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/7DN8xJoNcx
— Cleveland Sports Talk (@CLEsportsTalk) May 2, 2022
Apparently, Dawson has already talked to York about the ins and outs of kicking in FirstEnergy.
“He mentioned that there are going to be days that are tough. You just gotta go out there and hit a true ball,” York said in May. “You’ve got to be OK with not hitting it right down the middle every time, just have confidence in what you do, and not every kick is going to be the same.”
Kicking in the NFL requires a strong leg and York’s selection in the fourth round means the Browns think his leg is more than ready for the pros.
Weather conditions aside, York will be needed to kick long distances with a game (or season) on the line.
It will be a test of his mental toughness as he realizes that not only his teammates but his career is counting on him to make his kicks.
The Browns believe York is capable.
During his time in Baton Rouge, York kicked three of the longest field goals in team history (his career-best is 57 yards).
CADE YORK FROM 57 YARDS FOR THE LSU LEAD‼️ pic.twitter.com/5DMwrExZiI
— ESPN (@espn) December 13, 2020
He also converted on 15 of 19 field goals from 50 or more yards at LSU, which is a program record.
York kicked in some of the loudest stadiums in the country and in one of the toughest conferences to play for, the SEC.
According to York, he’s ready for the pressure.
“It’s not necessarily trying to eliminate pressure because one of my favorite quotes is ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ It’s just knowing that you are going to have times when you feel pressure, but it’s making sure that your body can take over, you go back to muscle memory in those moments and your mind does not take over.”
As much as Browns fans want to root for York, the team has been here before.
In the last six years, Cleveland drafted a kicker in 2017 (Zane Gonzalez) and 2019 (Austin Seibert), and neither panned out.
In fact, Siebert was a fifth-round selection from Oklahoma and lasted just over a season with the franchise.
His Achilles heel was on kicks over 40 yards and his longest kick was from 53 yards.
York was considered number one in the specialists class by numerous scouts and personnel departments heading into the 2022 draft.
— Craig Fountain (@CraigAFountain) May 26, 2022
It’s too early to tell if he will be the next Dawson.
But, if York’s connecting on at least 85% of his kicks (Dawson’s career average was 83.8%), staying consistent from 40 yards and beyond, and navigating the winds well in December and January, he has a shot.