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Ray-Ray McCloud loves game-changing chances on punt returns

Take one look at Ray-Ray McCloud's 77-yard punt return against North Carolina State and it's easy to get excited about his potential impact on the Buffalo Bills.

The sixth-round draft choice from Clemson juked or ran through eight would-be tacklers on the way to an electrifying touchdown, which sparked a key November victory for the Tigers.

McCloud is confident in his ability and just before had told his coach, Dabo Swinney, something good was coming.

"It was a game-changer," McCloud said during the Bills' rookie minicamp on Friday. "We actually were down and I jumped off-sides the series before that. I had to make a play. I told coach Swinney, I'll make a play."

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound McCloud is in a good position to make some plays for the Bills as a rookie.

Buffalo's punt returner last season, Brandon Tate, was not re-signed. The job is wide open.

It's a duty that McCloud has grown to love.

"It's the excitement in open spaces, making people miss and being able to change the game," McCloud said.

McCloud averaged 12.1 yards on 25 returns for Clemson last season, which ranked seventh in the nation. He was sure-handed as a junior in 2017, which was a priority. He had a few mishandles as a sophomore and also got some unwanted attention when he "gave away" a 75-yard punt return score against Troy. Thinking he was in the end zone, McCloud dropped the ball just before crossing the goal line.

"I've always had a talent for punt returns, but I never had a passion for it until I got to college," McCloud said. "I more liked kick returns. ... But I fell in love with it. Coach Swinney was on my butt about it, and that's when I fell in love with it. I was just passionate just to practice it, before practice, after practice, just to do it.

"Throughout my sophomore spring, coach said I'm going to get you right you're going to be known, the No. 1 punt returner in the nation. I'm going to make you that."

McCloud has good speed. He was timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. But he has special lateral quickness that could remind fans of former Bills return star Roscoe Parrish. In fact, McCloud's short-area speed prompted Clemson to use him on a limited number of plays at cornerback late in the season. The N.C. State game was the first time he was used as a defensive back. Due to college rules, he had to switch his number from 34 to 21 for the game.

He picked 21 because it was worn by famed two-way legend Deion Sanders.

Swinney referenced the mishandles and Sanders when talking about McCloud after the N.C. State game.

"That's why we didn't fire him," Swinney said of the TD return. "That’s why we hung in there with him. I wanted to fire him many times in the last year or so, but he grew up and matured. He’s a special talent, man, I'd have put him in 21 a long time ago if I knew he was going to turn into Deion."

McCloud even worked out a few plays at cornerback during Clemson's pro day this spring. But the Bills drafted him at receiver. They have a need for slot candidates who can get quick separation. McCloud said receiver is his sole focus.

"I've got an itch for DB but I'm a receiver first," he said. "That's where my passion is, that's where my craft is, that's what I work on. I feel if I get the ball in my hands I know I can change a game at receiver."

Despite his lack of size, McCloud doesn't view himself as a finesse player. He says he loves blocking.

"Where that comes from is I played running back in high school, so I always liked contact," he said. "Me playing receiver and not getting the ball 20 times, you gotta find a way to still impact the game. Keep your head in the game and be able to compete, keep that competitive edge. That was just a way for me to compete, be able to block and talk noise a little bit and keep myself in the game."

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