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10 most important Buffalo Bills of 2015, No. 10: Dan Carpenter

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Can a kicker really be one of a NFL team's ten most important players in a given season? We're making that exact case here for Dan Carpenter and the 2015 Buffalo Bills.

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The Buffalo Bills want to make the playoffs in 2015. They're going to try to do so by running the football, playing great defense and special teams, and minimizing the importance of the quarterback position (as well as the identity of the man under center) as much as possible.

Which makes their kicker, Dan Carpenter, one of the ten most important players on the entire roster heading into the 2015 season. That might seem like a bit of a stretch; it really isn't.

Carpenter has emerged as a bit of a folk hero to Bills fans in his two years with the team, and for good reason - he has been outstanding. Between 2013 and 2014, among the 25 kickers that attempted at least 50 field goals, only three successfully converted their kicks at a higher rate than Carpenter.

Rk Player Team FGM FGA FG%
1 Stephen Gostkowski Patriots 73 78 93.6%
2 Shaun Suisham Steelers 59 64 92.2%
3 Adam Vinatieri Colts 65 71 91.5%
4 Dan Carpenter Bills 67 74 90.5%
5 Josh Brown Giants 47 52 90.4%
6t Dan Bailey Cowboys 53 59 89.8%
6t Matt Bryant Falcons 53 59 89.8%
8 Justin Tucker Ravens 67 75 89.3%
9 Steven Hauschka Seahawks 64 72 88.9%
10 Nick Novak Chargers 56 63 88.9%
11 Matt Prater DEN/DET 46 52 88.5%
12 Nick Folk Jets 65 75 86.7%
13 Greg Zuerlein Rams 50 58 86.2%
14t Mason Crosby Packers 60 70 85.7%
14t Kai Forbath Redskins 42 49 85.7%
16 Graham Gano Panthers 53 62 85.5%
17 Phil Dawson 49ers 57 67 85.1%
18 Josh Scobee Jaguars 43 51 84.3%
19 Ryan Succop KC/TEN 41 50 82.0%
20t Randy Bullock Texans 56 70 80.0%
20t Blair Walsh Vikings 52 65 80.0%
20t Mike Nugent Bengals 44 55 80.0%
23 Billy Cundiff Browns 43 55 78.2%
24 Caleb Sturgis Dolphins 55 71 77.5%
25 Sebastian Janikowski Raiders 40 52 76.9%

Carpenter's range has been highly impressive, as well. Among those same 25 kickers, only three were asked to attempt field goals of 50 or more yards more often than Carpenter, while three more equaled his 14 attempts from that range. Carpenter had a higher success rate from 50-plus yards than all but one of those six other kickers, and his percentage from deep holds up well against the group as a whole, as well.

Rk Player Team 50M 50A 50%
1 Stephen Gostkowski Patriots 6 7 85.7%
2t Josh Brown Giants 5 6 83.3%
2t Nick Novak Chargers 5 6 83.3%
4 Dan Bailey Cowboys 11 14 78.6%
5t Graham Gano Panthers 7 9 77.8%
5t Adam Vinatieri Colts 7 9 77.8%
7 Matt Prater DEN/DET 9 12 75.0%
8t Dan Carpenter Bills 10 14 71.4%
8t Steven Hauschka Seahawks 5 7 71.4%
10t Matt Bryant Falcons 10 15 66.7%
10t Phil Dawson 49ers 10 15 66.7%
10t Nick Folk Jets 6 9 66.7%
10t Greg Zuerlein Rams 6 9 66.7%
14 Mason Crosby Packers 9 14 64.3%
15 Josh Scobee Jaguars 7 11 63.6%
16 Justin Tucker Ravens 10 16 62.5%
17t Blair Walsh Vikings 7 14 50.0%
17t Sebastian Janikowski Raiders 6 12 50.0%
17t Randy Bullock Texans 5 10 50.0%
17t Ryan Succop KC/TEN 3 6 50.0%
21 Caleb Sturgis Dolphins 6 13 46.2%
22t Billy Cundiff Browns 3 7 42.9%
22t Mike Nugent Bengals 3 7 42.9%
24t Kai Forbath Redskins 1 3 33.3%
24t Shaun Suisham Steelers 1 3 33.3%

But all of that just quantifies what you already knew: Carpenter has been an excellent kicker for the Bills. It's why the team signed him to a four-year, $9.95 million contract last offseason. Good kickers are worth significant money - but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're as important to their teams as we're positing Carpenter will be for the Bills this season.

Here's the thing, though: in order to make the playoffs in the AFC, which is fairly stacked with solid-to-good rosters in each division, the Bills are going to have to find a way to score points. Their defense can only take them so far (and it is expected to take them pretty far). Buffalo still has to have the advantage on the scoreboard. And without quality quarterback play, which the Bills should absolutely not be banking on if they're smart, their kicker is going to have to do some heavy lifting.

Over the past two seasons, Carpenter has accounted for nearly 39 percent of Buffalo's scoring, nearly 7 percent higher than the league average (or the rough equivalent of 49 points per season). In that same time frame, only one team has been more reliant on its kicker for points, on a percentage basis, than the Bills. Care to take a guess which team it was? If you guessed the New York Jets, led at the time by new Bills coach Rex Ryan, you are correct. (Take note of where San Francisco ranks, as well; their offense was called by new Bills coordinator Greg Roman.)

Rk Team Points K points %
1 New York Jets 573 245 42.8%
2 Buffalo Bills 683 264 38.7%
3 Baltimore Ravens 729 269 36.9%
4 Houston Texans 648 234 36.1%
5 Jacksonville Jaguars 496 174 35.1%
6 Arizona Cardinals 689 241 35.0%
7 San Francisco 49ers 712 248 34.8%
8 New England Patriots 912 314 34.4%
9 Seattle Seahawks 811 277 34.2%
10 Miami Dolphins 705 239 33.9%
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 565 191 33.8%
12 San Diego Chargers 744 250 33.6%
13 New York Giants 674 226 33.5%
14 Carolina Panthers 705 235 33.3%
15 Indianapolis Colts 849 279 32.9%
16 Cleveland Browns 607 200 32.9%
17 Tennessee Titans 616 200 32.5%
18 Atlanta Falcons 734 238 32.4%
19 St. Louis Rams 672 218 32.4%
20 Oakland Raiders 575 185 32.2%
21 Pittsburgh Steelers 815 261 32.0%
22 Minnesota Vikings 716 228 31.8%
23 Washington Redskins 635 199 31.3%
24 Green Bay Packers 903 275 30.5%
25 Dallas Cowboys 906 262 28.9%
26 Kansas City Chiefs 783 231 29.5%
27 Philadelphia Eagles 916 264 28.8%
28 Detroit Lions 716 206 28.8%
29 Cincinnati Bengals 795 223 28.1%
30 New Orleans Saints 815 223 27.4%
31 Denver Broncos 1,088 278 25.6%
32 Chicago Bears 764 192 25.1%

Outside of his unique defensive play-calling, Ryan has a reputation for being a conservative game manager from the sidelines. The offense he and Roman will be running is philosophically conservative, as well. The Bills are going to struggle to light up the scoreboard as a result, which elevates Carpenter's importance on game days.

It really was not that long ago that Carpenter, as a member of the Miami Dolphins, was a completely replaceable player. He made just 73 percent of his kicks in 2010, and topped out at 85 percent in the subsequent two seasons before Miami replaced him with Caleb Sturgis. It's why Carpenter was available to begin with as an emergency option at the outset of the 2013 season. He has been an entirely different (read: better) kicker in Buffalo, and the Bills are going to be highly reliant on his continued success in 2015.

We know what Buffalo's identity is going to be this season. They're going to try to grind out tough wins on a weekly basis. Without a third straight stellar campaign from Carpenter, they are going to find it exceedingly difficult to win enough games to end their 15-year playoff drought.

10 most important Bills in 2015

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  10. K Dan Carpenter (link)