Whenever a team drafts a kicker, it's a surprise. There are usually a few jokes, and most of them involve Roberto Aguayo.
Maybe that's why only one team drafted a kicker this year. It's not common. After Week 1, a few teams might be wishing they had been the one to do it.
The Cleveland Browns took LSU kicker Cade York in the fourth round of the draft. He was the only kicker drafted. On Sunday, when the Browns got in range for a 58-yard field goal in the final minute, trailing 24-23, they sent out York. Had it been one of the endless mediocre kickers that the Browns have employed through the years, they might not have even tried the field goal. The entire mindset of the Browns' final drive was different than years past, knowing they had a good kicker.
“I told the offense before the drive, I said, ‘Let’s get to the 40.’ That was our goal," said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, according to News 5 in Cleveland.
The Browns got to the Panthers' 40-yard line and York nailed the kick. He didn't just hit the 58-yarder, he hit it high up in the net. It seemed like he would have been good from 65 or more. The Browns won. The entire complexion of that final drive, which won a game, changed due to the presence of a rookie fourth-round pick. That's impact.
During a week in which we saw multiple teams miss key kicks, the decision to use a fourth-round pick on a kicker looked like a pretty good one for Cleveland.
Many kickers struggled in Week 1
The Aguayo pick will never be forgotten when it comes to kickers being drafted. Aguayo was a great kicking prospect at Florida State, but it was a still a shock when he went in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It didn't work out. Aguayo lasted just one season in the NFL, making only 71 percent of his field goals. Second-round picks bust all the time, but this was a high-profile miss.
However, any team in and endless search for a kicker would probably trade a draft pick for some peace of mind.
We saw some important missed kicks on Sunday. Younghoe Koo of the Atlanta Falcons had a potential game-winning 63-yard field goal blocked. In the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game, Evan McPherson (a great kicker working with a backup long snapper) had an extra point blocked and a missed 29-yard field goal that could have won the game. On the other side, Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell missed an overtime kick before hitting the game-winner. Rodrigo Blankenship of the Indianapolis Colts missed a potential game-winner in overtime against the Houston Texans. Riley Patterson of the Jacksonville Jaguars missed a 37-yard kick that changed the complexion of that loss to the Washington Commanders. Then, in the late games, Randy Bullock missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired and the Tennessee Titans lost 21-20.
Meanwhile, the fourth-round pick of the Browns hit all four field goals he made and Cleveland won by a point. Any other fourth-round pick have that kind of direct influence on a Week 1 win?
Cade York was a great prospect
McPherson had a rough Week 1, but that was mostly due to having an emergency long snapper after the Bengals' usual snapper was injured during the game. He's another example of the value in drafting a kicker.
McPherson was the only kicker drafted in 2021 and he was awesome last season. McPherson hit numerous huge kicks during the Bengals' run to the Super Bowl. He looks like the type of kicker that can solidify that position for at least a decade in Cincinnati. How many other mid-round picks can have that kind of impact?
The Browns have to be happy they drafted York. He was a great kicker in college, hitting numerous long-distance kicks, including a game-winning 57-yarder on a foggy night against Florida in 2020. Aguayo aside, it should be fairly uncomplicated to project what a college kicker can do on the pro level. There wasn't much risk in picking York.
The Browns are 1-0, feeling pretty good about themselves. Maybe that win, or another to come that York plays a big part in, is the difference in making the playoffs. A few teams in Week 1, or later this season, might regret not using a draft pick to get a player who can help them like York has already helped the Browns.