Leodis McKelvin isn't shying away from his prowess as a kick and punt returner. He shouldn't. But some college players try to as they transition to the NFL.
They want to prove they're more than just a specialist. McKelvin isn't immune. At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, McKelvin manned a starting cornerback position at Troy University and finished with 48 solo tackles and two interceptions last season.
McKelvin is one of those smaller-school players that come to the Senior Bowl each year with something to prove. They must they prove that they're capable of playing with the big boys, i.e., the players from Michigan and Southern Cal.
But returning punts and kicks? Well that's where McKelvin is a known quantity. And if that's what it takes to get a NFL job, so be it.
It worked for another cornerback who was an unusual fit entering the draft two years ago.
"That's what most teams are looking for — the next Devin Hester," McKelvin said. "So, I mean, I'm that guy if they want it."
That's a bold statement. McKelvin, despite where he went to school, has the numbers to back it up.
McKelvin finished his career with seven punt returns for touchdowns, one shy of the NCAA record. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. His career averages of 23.0 for kickoffs and 13.2 for punts are scintillating, as is his 4.4 speed, not just for a return man but also for a cornerback. Last year he averaged 18.3 yards per punt and scored three times.
But this may put it in perspective. McKelvin had 1,002 all-purpose yards in 2007, more than any other Trojan — and he didn't play a lick of offense.
That's probably why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers met with McKelvin earlier this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Bucs have struggled for years to find a return man that could help them win the field position battle on kickoffs and punts. Mark Jones came closest to that in 2007 but his injured knee ended his season against Detroit. Micheal Spurlock did return a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, but the former Mississippi quarterback doesn't have a long track record returning kicks.
Could McKelvin be the answer? He's confident enough to believe he can help any team.
"If you're going to look at me I think you have to look at me as both (a corner and return man)," McKelvin said. "I can play corner, and as a returner I can change field position."
McKelvin had an above-average week of practices in Mobile this week, leading to at least eight meetings with NFL scouts and coaches. His play has also helped shoot him up draft boards. While some services rank McKelvin as a second-round pick, Scout.com's Chris Steuber has McKelvin as a mid-first round pick in his latest mock draft, released on Wednesday.
Perhaps McKelvin's stock is on the rise because, in Mobile, he looks and acts like just another player from a major college program and not the pride of the Troy Trojans.
"A player is just a player wherever you go," McKelvin said. "Some teams have good players that come out of low classifications. I mean if you're a player, they'll come fine you. Speed is everywhere. You can adapt to anybody."
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.