Approaching the season with only one returning cornerback who had seen extensive playing time in the league, Buffalo faced difficult questions about the solidity of its pass defense.
“He’s accepted that challenge each week of hey, wherever you want to put me, left, right or you’re putting me on the best receiver. I think from a competitive standpoint he’s right there at the top with our other guys,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said.
Through two weeks of covering top receivers, quarterbacks targeted McKelvin’s cover assignment 26 times -- the league high for a cornerback -- but he’s allowed just 10 catches for 111 yards while allowing no touchdowns, according to ProFootballFocus.
After neutralizing Kenbrell Thompkins against the Patriots, he faced Carolina’s five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith and kept him under wraps. Smith had five catches for a pedestrian 52 yards.
“I was just doing my best,” McKelvin said. “I was holding my end up, what they had me do going into this game.”
McKelvin has seven pass breakups to his name on the young season. Only one defensive back in the league currently has more. But rookie cornerback
“He's very serious about making a statement this year,” Robey said. “For instance, against Carolina, Steve Smith had five catches. He was still mad about that.”
But McKelvin’s pass defenses have contributed in numerous defensive sets, including keeping Carolina from scoring just yards away from the end zone in the fourth quarter. On a 3rd-and-goal from the Bills nine-yard line, McKelvin broke up a potential touchdown pass to Smith. That held Carolina to the first of two consecutive field goal drives, giving Buffalo’s offense a chance to win on their final scoring drive.
“If you can stop guys from getting seven, and make them take three or nothing, it’s going to help you out in the long run,” McKelvin said. “Those two drives, we needed to go either three and out, make them kick a field goal or not a field goal in order for us to win. We did that, we gave our offense a chance to go down there.”
McKelvin said his preparation off the field has helped prepare him for situations like that.
“I study the play books, I study the routes, study what they like to do for third and long,” he said. “You put a lot into it off the field.”
Pettine said McKelvin spends extra time with coaches to keep his play top notch.
"He’s very competitive and he was very coachable, and I think Donnie (Henderson) has come in here and cleaned up some of his maybe what he thought were some technique issues and he’s best when he’s up in a guy’s face challenging them,” Pettine said.
It isn’t just McKelvin’s willingness to learn off the field. Robey said it helps that Buffalo coaches are dedicated.
“You can tell they care a lot. You can tell they put a lot of effort into what they do,” he said. “But at the same time, they let us be professionals. They hold us accountable for the responsibilities at hand.”
Robey said McKelvin earned his success, and he looks forward to seeing him produce in upcoming games.
“He's right where he belongs. Number one,” Robey said. “He's been through a lot of adversity over these last couple of years, so with the success he's having right now, he really deserves that -- because that's what he worked for.”