Browns should consider drafting a kicker in Round 7
Is it insane for the Cleveland Browns to consider drafting a kicker in Round 7 to compete against incumbent Cade York? The usual objection to this strategy is that there's a very large risk that the kicker won't win the job in camp and will have to be cut, and the team would much rather choose a player for a long-term relationship, rather than a brief summer fling.
However, if you look at who the Browns have actually drafted, kickers have turned out better than the mediocre position players they've tended to draft in Round 7 and unsuccessfully coddled, waiting for them to develop into impact players. These investments have simply not turned out well.
Cleveland has assigned too many roster spots to the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Dawson Deaton, Matthew Dayes, Scooby Wright, Isaiah Wright, Donnie Lewis, Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, Armonty Bryant, and Garrett Gilkey (just going back 10 years).
If instead they use these picks to bring quality kicking prospects to camp, they will either improve the team immediately or they will recover the roster spot rather than stretching out the agony over a period of years while pretending that these untalented picks are going to justify their existence one of these years.
Thomas and Deaton are still on the team and deserve their shot to justify the faith the front office has placed in them. So let's not give up on them, but at the same time, we have to be realistic about the report card of the front office.
In past years they have just not delivered on late-round draft picks, and in the past, they have clogged the roster with seventh-round players who have not proven out. They have done better with bringing low-budget free agents.
The Round 7 pick the Browns selected who had the most impactful NFL career is probably Zane Gonzalez, who kicked in Cleveland for two seasons and then moved on due to an injury. He is currently the only kicker on San Francisco's roster this season, though they may draft a kicker this season to compete with him.
Why a kicker makes sense for the Browns in Round 7
There are at least four reasons why drafting a kicker makes sense for the Browns. That doesn't mean the Browns will actually do this, so once again this is a case of some smart Alec Browns writer trying to outsmart the Pros. But let's think about this.
First of all, Cade York did quite not live up to expectations last season, with several key misses. His overall field goal percentage of 75% was good but not great. His 94.6% extra point conversion rate was good for 27th in the NFL. Those are decent numbers for a rookie, but not so great that he could not be challenged. Competition will only strengthen both contenders.
Second, though there is some fear that the loser of the kicking competition might be claimed on waivers at the end of camp, so what? Cleveland gets to keep the better player.
Plus, you never know if there might be an opportunity to sign him again in the future. The downside risk is small. Although the contract is for four years and $3.9 million or so, very little of that is guaranteed. The Browns are only on the hook for the signing bonus in Round 7, which is a paltry $150K or less.
Third, kicker is a vastly underrated part of the team. Though they may not be macho and they often have last names that are difficult to pronounce, but, they score points. One time when Tampa Bay's Martin Grammatica was a rookie, he forgot to buy donuts for the team and the offense was going to tape him naked to the goalpost as a reminder of his duty, but defensive end Warren Sapp saved him.
"No, you aren't taping our only guaranteed points to the goalpost!" Sapp was Grammatica's friend for life, but the point is that Sapp understood the value of the little guy to the team.
Fourth, the rookie might actually win the job. There are some good kickers out there. Here we list a few.
Prospects who could challenge Cade York
Browns strategy officer Paul DePodesta may well appreciate the logic, but Andrew Berry will probably choose to stick to the traditional strategy of drafting a fringe prospect and keeping him on the roster for at least two or three years based on the faint hope that he might develop into an impact one of these years.
However, if they do decide to bring in a challenger for York, many draft guides are nominating Michigan's Jake Moody as the top kicking prospect in the 2023 draft because he booms the bejesus out of the ball. He knocked a 59-yarder through last season. That occurred in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas Christian University no less.
We also like the fact that he played for a northern school, and isn't going to be upset if the weather is a bit inclement. On extra points, he hit on 148 out of 148 for his career. That shows impressive consistency. In 2021 he won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker. Moody's career 82.1% field goal conversion percentage is very good though not quite mind-bending. For that reason, he should not be considered the automatic first kicker to leave the draft board.
Chad Ryland played one year for Maryland after transferring from Eastern Michigan. He was Second-Team All-Big-10 behind Moody on 19 for 23, with seven of eight between 40 and 49 yards and three-of-six from 50 and beyond.
For his career, he was 9-of-15 from outside of 50 yards. That's amazingly impressive. Looking at his touchback stats, in 2022, he put 69.9% of his kicks in the endzone. In 2021, only 59.6% of his kickoffs were touchbacks, and in 2020, only 55.6% made it into the endzone.
That shows consistent year-by-year improvement. Moody peaked in 2021 at 66.3%, dropping to 62.8% in 2022. In other words, Ryland has been more accurate on short kicks than Moody and more accurate on long kicks than Moody, and he has been gaining leg strength. Moody has played in more memorable bowl games, but Ryland may be the superior prospect.
Another prospect who should merit some Day 3 attention is Christopher Dunn of North Carolina State. Unfortunately kicking stats from the ACC are not as detailed as from the Big 10 for some reason, so we cannot amaze you with stats on Dunn's touchback performance and the like.
However, we can say that he lined up for three points 29 times and made field goals on 28 of those attempts. That is better than anyone else. The previous year, however, he was only 13 for 19. Thus, perhaps, we ought not to place too much faith in the amazing 2022 numbers.
Any of these three kickers is worth a shot. Dunn's accuracy in 2022 is the most impressive, but we don't have enough data to be confident that it is not a statistical fluke. In particular, for whatever reason, the kickoff data on ACC teams is not as easily available as it is for Big 10 teams.
Ryland's accuracy is not quite as good, but we have statistical confidence that he has improved leg strength and accuracy in both short and long kicks. Jake Moody has received very favorable attention from draft evaluators, and if you like big-game performances you could prefer him over Ryland. However, Ryland's numbers are actually more impressive overall than Moody's overall and suggest that Ryland is still improving.