Leodis McKelvin is used to people trying to take his job.
Since being selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills’ cornerback has seen the team draft six players at his position – three of which came in the first or second rounds.
“Since when don’t they select a cornerback, you know?” McKelvin said of his reaction to the Bills taking Florida State’s Ronald Darby in the second round this year. “They’ve done it plenty of years when I’ve been here. ... It really doesn’t matter, as long as those guys come in and help contribute to what we’ve got going on, which is to get to the playoffs. That’s all I really care about.”
The nature of the NFL demands a team be deep at cornerback. The last two seasons in Buffalo have shown that, as McKelvin missed six games last year because of a broken ankle and the year before Stephon Gilmore missed five with a broken wrist.
“How we’ve been getting injured the past couple years ... you’ve got to have somebody you can have confidence with, that if somebody goes down, they can go in and fill their spot,” he said.
McKelvin said he’s taking his time rehabbing his ankle injury.
“It’s getting better day by day,” he said. “It’s getting better and getting stronger. I’ll just continue to work on it.”
Unfortuntately for him, McKelvin has plenty of experience in rehabbing from a broken ankle, which he’s done twice prior – once in college and once in his second season in the NFL, limiting him to just three games in 2009.
“It’s not my first rodeo of me breaking my ankle,” he said. “This is my third time. I did it back in college and then my second year in the league. It’s just a routine for me getting back stronger. My speed’s not going to go anywhere. I’m naturally fast. I have a God-given talent to run fast, so I’ll be able to come back to my ability.”
The Bills are returning to a defense that should have plenty of similarities to the one McKelvin excelled in during 2013. That year, under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, he finished with 72 tackles and 19 passes defensed, both career single-season highs.
“I feel like I can come back and put those back-to-back seasons from when I was working with Mike Pettine in a defense similar to this defense right now,” he said. “It’s going to be more blitzing. They’re going to get to the quarterback much faster, so you know the ball’s going to get out. You’ve got to get your head around and make plays when it comes your way.
According to statistics kept by the analytics website Pro Football Focus, McKelvin was targeted 102 times in 2013, and allowed just 47 completions. He gave up only two touchdowns and opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 66.3 when throwing against him.
“That year, I did pretty well as far as completions coming my way. I told myself the next year I was going to start working on getting more interceptions, so if I put those two seasons together, the sky is the limit.”
McKelvin was able to improve his interception total in 2014, finishing with a team-leading four despite missing six games. While his total picks jumped, however, his number of completions allowed was 42, nearly equaling his total from 2013. That’s why he’s eager to return to coach Rex Ryan’s scheme – from which Pettine worked.
For a player who was knocked for his ability to make plays on the ball early in his career, that’s an impressive turnaround. It also explains why the Bills are heading into 2015 with McKelvin penciled into one of their starting cornerback jobs opposite Gilmore – despite how many players they draft at the position.