McKelvin becoming a factor in stretch run (buffalobills.com)
Ten weeks into his rookie season, fans and "experts" - the most notable "expert" being the ever-delightful Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News - had inexplicably already pulled out the term "bust" when discussing Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Ten weeks into his rookie season, there was reason to be disappointed with the rookie, however. McKelvin had made little impact defensively, given up plenty of big plays, and had been rather pedestrian as a kick returner. Still, to term any rookie a "bust" after nine games is a bit ridiculous.
To say that McKelvin has exploded onto the scene over the past two weeks is an understatement.
It started on Monday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns, when McKelvin - filling in for an injured Jabari Greer in the second half - shut down dangerous Browns WR Donte' Stallworth. His 98-yard kickoff return for a score kept the Bills in that game, despite the fact that after four offensive turnovers, they had no business being alive in the first place.
Then came yesterday's break-out performance at Kansas City. McKelvin intercepted the first two passes of his career, returning the first one for a 64-yard touchdown to give the Bills the lead for good. He was also explosive once again in the return game, returning the opening kickoff of the second half 46 yards to set up Trent Edwards' second rushing TD and a 37-17 Bills lead.
That's not to say the kid's been perfect. His coverage has improved tremendously, but his technique is still lacking to the point that he can get turned around on occasion and give up big plays. His run support is not great, either - the kid tackles well, but he routinely takes bad angles and has trouble shedding blocks. He was engulfed on several long Larry Johnson runs yesterday when he was responsible for contain.
But he's still a rookie. When you're playing with any rookie in this league, you take the good with the bad. For McKelvin the past two weeks, the explosive good has outweighed the bad by several miles.
Said McKelvin after yesterday's stellar performance in KC:
"It felt great. It felt like I was in college, where my first pick went for a touchdown. I'm just out there trying to do my job. Basically what they tell me in practice is mind your own business, do your own job and things will come your way. I've been working very hard in practice and it's starting to pay off."
Head coach Dick Jauron piled on:
"We're obviously thrilled with the way he played today and the way he's come along."
It's not exactly necessary to point out that "experts" like Sullivan who called McKelvin out earlier in the season are eating their words this morning. Bills fans have been spoiled a bit with the solid rookie contributions of players like Donte Whitner, Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and several others during Jauron's tenure as this team's coach. Maybe the Bills were at a point where they didn't need a rookie to perform immediately, maybe not; either way, what's forgotten is the fact that making the leap from tiny Troy to the NFL isn't exactly easy. DeMarcus Ware did it in Dallas, but not even Giants star Osi Umenyiora was an instant-impact guy as a second-round pick (he registered just one sack as a rookie). When you draft a small-school guy - and for its growing reputation, Troy is undoubtedly small - development takes time. Leo is still developing.
But it's time to toss the "bust" label to the wayside. McKelvin has arrived, and once he learns consistency, he should very quickly assert himself as one of the very best corners in this league.