McKelvin has elite potential at CB, PR (Photo Source)
With their first round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills chose the top player rated on their board in Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Widely regarded as the top cornerback available in this year's draft class, the highly athletic McKelvin was known as a shut-down corner at the college level, as well as one of the nation's elite return specialists.
The Bills made a splash at the top of their 2007 draft by taking RB Marshawn Lynch, whose superb rookie year may have landed him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors had it not been for a certain Peterson character in Minnesota. The Bills' pick of McKelvin, however, may have provided the team with an even more explosive player, especially when the ball is in his hands.
Just how good is McKelvin, and just how good can McKelvin be? No one is more equipped than a draft scout to answer those questions. Matt Miller, head of the popular scouting service New Era Scouting and head of SB Nation's draft blog, Mocking the Draft, was kind enough to take some time from his busy post-draft schedule to talk about McKelvin at a more intricate level. Here's his take on some of the nitty-gritty questions I asked him - and you may be surprised at some of the responses...
We've heard good things about McKelvin's footwork, fluid hips and recovery speed. His size is very adequate as well. Can McKelvin be a corner that eventually matches up with any receiver in the league?
We had Leodis McKelvin rated as our #1 CB going in to the draft for many reasons, most of which you mentioned. McKelvin can be a player who will match up with and shut down the best receivers in the NFL. In no way will he be ready to line up across from Randy Moss as a rookie, but his tools show that he has the talent to eventually do so. McKelvin has everything we look for in an elite cover man.
The Bills view McKelvin as an immediate starter, even though they employ the Cover 2. Does McKelvin have the tackling skill and demeanor to excel in this defense?
Tackling, unlike other areas, is as much about will as it is talent. McKelvin has shown the ability to "lay the hat" on receivers throughout his time at Troy. The area that must be taught is his press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He has the size and strength to be physical with receivers, but must show the heart to do so. I do not see this being a problem for him, as he's a successful return man and is not afraid of contact there.
We've heard conflicting reports on McKelvin's instincts. Some say he's a great anticipator and can read quarterbacks well, while others say he's lacking in this area. What are your thoughts after watching him on film?
I would say it's both. McKelvin has games where he shows great instincts in reading the route and jumping it, or reading the quarterback's eyes and breaking up a pass. His best talent may be baiting the quarterback into a bad throw. His recovery speed is so phenomenal that he has the ability to play off the receiver and then jump the route once the pass is thrown. His instincts are sufficient, and when combined with his speed they are more than adequate.
McKelvin was an elite punt returner in college, scoring 7 times on punt returns. But the Bills already have arguably the league's best punt returner in Roscoe Parrish. Is McKelvin as effective returning kickoffs as he is punts?
His natural ability with the football will make him a success any time he touches the ball. Early in the season McKelvin was among the best return men I had ever seen in college. He is naturally gifted with speed, agility and vision in the open field. He could quickly take over return duties from Parrish while becoming a starter at cornerback.
Give us your prognosis on McKelvin's career. How good can he be? What's the worst case scenario for this kid? Can he be compared to any current NFL cornerbacks?
The best case scenario is quite high. McKelvin has the potential to be in the class of Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson. He compares favorably to Woodson in many areas, in fact. At worst, McKelvin is a Devin Hester clone on returns, but a nickel cover man on defense.
I'd like to thank Matt Miller once again for the intriguing insight on McKelvin. It's interesting - the McKelvin selection was regarded in the immediate aftermath of the selection as a solid pick, yet the more I hear about McKelvin, the more I hear that he could truly be an NFL superstar. Clearly, it is much too early to be turning that claim into gospel, as McKelvin's still never played an NFL snap and will need to adjust to the NFL setting.
I also found it interesting that Miller believes that McKelvin can unseat Parrish as this team's punt returner as a rookie. I don't see that happening - Parrish has been among the top two or three punt returners in the NFL over the past two years - but it speaks volumes to McKelvin's ability with the ball in his hands. I still have some doubts as to whether he's as effective on kick returns, but clearly, the Bills now have three outstanding return threats on their roster, and that's going to be very difficult for opposing special teams coordinators to game plan for.
I'm jacked up about this kid. Elite coverage tools, explosive with the ball in his hands, and he instantly improves depth in the defensive backfield and adds an entirely new dimension to an already solid special teams unit. You want to talk about a value selection with an incredibly high ceiling? Leodis McKelvin is your guy. Work on those ball skills, kid, and we'll have nothing else to complain about.