Way back in February, during the annual scouting combine, Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey provided some frank commentary on the play of cornerback Leodis McKelvin in 2010.
"I felt like he left something on the table. And I had this conversation with him," Gailey told The Buffalo News. "There were times he was banged up a little bit but I think he has the capability to be an extremely good corner in this league. And I hope he’ll commit to what he needs to commit to in the offseason to get better."
Gailey has gone on to question McKelvin's commitment, as he perceives it, in recent weeks, as well. In three abbreviated seasons with the Bills, McKelvin has not gotten noticeably better since an eventful rookie season; in fact, it's easier to argue he's gotten worse. Even though he continues to run as a starter during training camp, no cornerback's proverbial seat is hotter than McKelvin's this season.
Widely considered the best cornerback prospect available leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft, many didn't expect McKelvin to be available for the Bills' No. 11 overall pick that season. He was a very popular pick at No. 7 overall to the New England Patriots, in fact. Even though he was coming from Troy - a strong program that nonetheless would require McKelvin to undertake a lot of technical refinement - there was no denying his tremendous athletic upside.
Well over three years later, nothing has changed, even after McKelvin made 22 starts and played extensively in 35 games over his first three seasons. In that time frame, he's accumulated 105 tackles, four interceptions and a touchdown (which he turned in during his rookie season). He's added a kick return touchdown, too, for whatever that's worth.
Inconsistency, however, has marred McKelvin's career to date - and an ankle injury that cut his second season short after just three games didn't help his cause, either. Still prone to glaring technical breakdowns, McKelvin struggles in man coverage, with receivers easily separating from him far too often. He is also highly susceptible to double moves, and gives up too many plays deep. We'll be talking more about his propensity to give up deep plays shortly with the folks at Football Outsiders.
Still, there are moments where McKelvin is excellent. Coming into the league, most scouts agreed that McKelvin wouldn't ever be an elite playmaker, but McKelvin has shown the ability to play extremely tight coverage and make plays on the ball over the years, as well. The problem, as Gailey alludes to, is the lack of consistency - and perhaps Gailey is right in that the inconsistency stems from a lack of focus and commitment. Other entities have questioned the same things in McKelvin, most notably former ESPN AFC East blogger Tim Graham.
Buffalo made significant investments in two cornerbacks this past off-season, drafting Aaron Williams in the second round and then signing Drayton Florence to a three-year, $15 million deal. Terrence McGee may have something left in the tank. Even Reggie Corner has shown better than McKelvin has this pre-season, as McKelvin has been targeted early and often against a vanilla Bills pass defense.
McKelvin will turn 26 years old a week from today. Clearly, he's young enough to still reach his full potential. But he's also entering the penultimate year of a five-year rookie contract he signed in 2008, and he's scheduled to make $1.32 million in base salary in 2012. Without a year in which he shows improvement - perhaps even highly significant gains - it's entirely conceivable that McKelvin could be viewed as the latest Bills first-round draft failure. He may already be in that territory for many Bills fans.