With all the twists and turns surrounding the Buffalo Bills' rushing personnel, not much has been said about the team's special teams play. Enter Leodis McKelvin.
McKelvin, now in his fifth year with the Bills, started out as the team's main kick returner his rookie season. And though some fumbling issues early on in his career saw him lose that job to the likes of Roscoe Parrish and C.J. Spiller, McKelvin has regained his role as return specialist, and he is making an immediate impact on Buffalo's offensive attack.
“He is probably another guy that is underrated in his area,” coach Chan Gailey told reporters Monday. “I think he is an extremely talented returner and he has a chance to take every ball, whether it is a kickoff or a punt, he has a chance to take it all the way as we saw two weeks ago. Our guys will keep working because when they know he is back there, they are working extremely hard to block and to do their assignments.”
McKelvin's numbers have been steadily increasing over the past few years, and his efforts have put the Bills' special teams, particularly their punt return squad, near the top of the league the past couple seasons. Buffalo ranked third in punt return average last season, and returners tallied 20 yards or more six times including a touchdown, an 80-yard return by McKelvin.
This season, McKelvin has handled all the punt returns, and he's averaging nearly 30 yards a return, thanks in part to an 88-yard score against the Chiefs in Week 2. His returns have gone for 20 or more yards five times in six tries, giving the Bills the strongest punt return in the league thus far.
“He has a great outlook,” Gailey said. “He wants to win. That is the great thing about him is that he wants to win. He will do his role, whatever it is, and try to be the greatest he can be at it. Whatever that is. I am glad we got him. I know that.”
Gailey also said he wouldn't be surprised if teams started treating McKelvin like Hester, kicking around him to avoid big plays. He said he wouldn't mind that at all, given that when most teams try to kick around a returner they are more likely to make an error and have a short kick.
That may be the key against the New England Patriots on Sunday, as the Pats' special teams play has been well documented the past few years. Since 2007, New England has held punt returners to under 10 yards on average, and they haven't allowed a touchdown or even a return longer than 33 yards since 2006.
A strong performance by McKelvin at home against the Pats could mean the difference between a division leading team and a .500 team. Gailey further instilled his confidence in McKelvin's ability and decision-making skills Monday.
“Has he become a better decision maker? Yeah, I think he has," Gailey said. "I think he knows how to set up things. He has a feel for setting up things better than when I got here. I know that.”