McKelvin will return kicks more often (buffalobills.com)
It is fairly common knowledge that the special teams units of the Buffalo Bills consistently rank among the best in the NFL. It has been this way for quite some time. Under the leadership of special teams coordinator Bobby April, the Bills have boasted a consistently excellent special teams corps for the past four years that has featured some explosive playmakers.
For the most part, that hasn't changed in April's fifth season. Through two games, the Bills are once again showing that their kick and punt return coverage units are outstanding - despite some pretty substantial personnel turnover - and punt returner Roscoe Parrish has electrified his fans and teammates by averaging 17.6 yards per return and scoring once through two games this season.
It's par for the course at those three spots. The team has not been proficient as usual, however, in the kick return department. Now, the team is turning to rookie first-round pick CB Leodis McKelvin to bring the Bills' kick return game closer to par.
Where explosiveness outweighs consistency
The man that McKelvin is replacing is veteran cornerback Terrence McGee - and to be very clear about the whole situation, "replace" is a strong word. More accurately, McKelvin will now share the kick return workload with McGee, once one of the game's best kick return men and a former Pro Bowl player at the position. The move is expected to be beneficial in many ways.
McGee appears to have lost a step in the return game. Granted, he hasn't had much of an opportunity to go to work - he's returned just three kicks during two strong defensive performances by the Bills - but he's not as quick to the hole as we've seen him be in years past. The fact that McGee is the team's top cover corner hasn't worn him down to the point where he is incapable of returning kicks, but his effectiveness at the craft has been limited. McGee is averaging just 20.7 yards per return, a figure far below his usual expectation.
To be fair, McKelvin hasn't fared much better. On two returns (both in last week's victory over Jacksonville), he's gained just 43 yards. But the rookie brings something to the table that McGee hasn't for at least two seasons: explosive potential. McGee has been the model of consistency, routinely giving the Bills above-average field position offensively. McKelvin likely won't be as proficient at that aspect right out of the gate, but his speed, acceleration and vision make him a far more viable home run threat. Add that to the fact that McGee will be fresher and avoid bumps and bruises, and the benefits for Buffalo become quite clear.
McKelvin the return man
As this past April's NFL Draft approached, players such as RB Chris Johnson (now with Tennessee), RB Felix Jones (now with Dallas) and WR DeSean Jackson (now with Philadelphia) were regarded as the most explosive return men in the draft class. It was Troy's McKelvin, however, who scored on eight returns in his collegiate career (seven on punts). McKelvin was widely regarded as the top cornerback prospect entering the draft, but he also may have been the most underrated return prospect.
Now the eleventh overall pick is getting his chance to show his talents on the field - and he'd better take advantage of it, because it's not likely he'll see significant playing time defensively any time soon. Buried on the depth chart as the team's fourth cornerback, McKelvin hasn't even see much dime work to date - meaning that in the cases he's on the field in 2008, he'll likely be touching the ball.
It's no secret that McKelvin is a better punt returner than a kick returner, but that's the case for most young players, especially those with the unique skills of McKelvin. But he's got a load of potential as a kick returner. If he can iron out the little things that have yet to crop up - ball security and patience chief among them - McKelvin has the opportunity to quickly assert himself as one of the better return men of the game. It will help Buffalo become even more dependable defensively, and it will complete Buffalo's explosiveness in all four major phases on special teams. It's win-win. Run, Leodis. Run.