One position that doesn't appear to be up for grabs heading into Buffalo Bills training camp is the kicker position. Rian Lindell is the incumbent, and although he's coming off a shoulder injury he sustained last year - and even though the Bills spent a compensatory pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on Western Michigan kicker John Potter - it seems Lindell's roster spot is safe.
Last year, when the NFL moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line and touchbacks became near automatic for most kickers, the Bills finished third to last in the category. By drafting Potter's booming leg, the Bills have officially announced that they want into the NFL's new brand of boring ball-possession transfer.
For years, the Bills have expressed an undaunted confidence in Lindell's abilities, and he's certainly earned some cred by kicking moderately well in one of the most notoriously windy stadiums in the NFL. But after crunching the numbers after the jump, it appears that Lindell's performance has been average, at best, since the 2008 season.
Lindell has been money from distances under 40 yards, we'll give him that. Where he seems to have slipped some is in the 40-yards and up range. In 2008, Lindell was 11-for-18 on field goal attempts over 40 yards long. For comparison, that same year in the same range, Rob Bironas was 16-for-20, and Nick Folk was 12-for-13.
IN 2009, Lindell went 7-for-12 from the same range. In 2010, he was 4-for-8. Last year, he was 5-for-6, and didn't attempt a single kick of 50 or more yards. Of course, he was injured for a portion of the season, but the fact that he didn't even attempt a kick at that range in the same year that he's the third-worst kickoff performer is revealing.
The intense dudes at Football Outsiders have a field goal stat, FG/XP, that "compares each field goal to the league-average percentage of field goals from that distance," with the number "0" being a representation of the average. In 2008, the Bills lodged a -3.6; 2009: 3.7; 2010: 0.5. (The 2011 number reflects Dave Rayner and Brandon Coutu's numbers as well, so it's not fair to judge Lindell by those.)
The biggest weakness here for argument against Lindell comes down to the weather factors that Ralph Wilson Stadium (at least for seven games) offers. The FO aggregate measure of special teams effectiveness, DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), by some miracle of math and science does account for weather factors, but the field goal stat does not. I do believe, however, one thing remains clear: the Bills are weak in the long kick game, and they've done something about it. They selected a kicker for the first time in 24 years, when they made West Carolina's Kirk Roach a fifth-round pick in 1988.
Last year, Potter was only 6-for-11 in the 40-plus range himself for cold-weather Western Michigan. Do kickers have such a thing as an upside? It appears we may find out.