Much like he did on his 98-yard kick return for a touchdown in Week 11 against Cleveland, Leodis McKelvin pulled away from his three teammates to win Special Teams MVP honors for 2008. McKelvin received two out of every three votes cast in the online Buffalobills.com poll. His fellow return man Roscoe Parrish finished second in the voting.
Despite a start that was somewhat up and down once given the duty of kick returner, McKelvin began to make long returns more and more frequent as the season wore on.
With a 56-yard return in Week 3 against Oakland his best through the first half of the season, Buffalo's top draft pick turned it up in Week 10 at New England with a late return for 85 yards.
The next week McKelvin put his return exploits on display for the entire country with his 98-yard touchdown return on Monday night football. But the rookie gave credit to the 10 men in front of him.
"I just used my natural speed that God gave me to get through the holes and I basically looked back across the field for my cutback angle and with those guys blocking for me they made the holes that much easier for me because I didn't have to make too many people miss," recalled McKelvin. "I didn't have to make anybody miss actually."
McKelvin would go on to rank in the top three in kick return average the rest of the season, ultimately finishing third with a mark of 28.2 behind only New England's Ellis Hobbs and Chicago's Danieal Manning.
"I think he's a really good returner," said special teams coordinator Bobby April. "I think he runs tough, he flies up in there, he can make a guy miss, he's got good vision, he's got good toughness and good speed, which is what you have to have."
McKelvin also broke seven individual Bills player records including most kickoff return yards in a season with 1,498 breaking Terrence McGee's mark of 1,391 yards set in 2005.
The Monday night game against Cleveland was clearly McKelvin's coming out party. In addition to it being the game in which he had the longest return of the season, he also broke the team record for most kick return yardage in a game with 185 yards on just three returns. He also shattered the team record for return yard average in the Monday night contest with a mark of 61.67.
As a result the Bills improved from 28th in kick return average in 2007 to 7th in 2008.
In the last third of the season opposing teams began kicking away from McKelvin with pooch and squib kicks to Buffalo's up-men on the kick return unit. And McKelvin's teammates needed to only advance the ball 10 yards to give the Buffalo offense the ball often times at their own 40-yard line or better.
It was a big reason why Buffalo finished first in the NFL in average drive start as McKelvin and company let the offense begin possessions at better than the 32-yard line (32.4).
"It was great being able to start to see more and basically just get more balls across the 50 and give great field position for the offense," McKelvin said. "With us being able to do that it's better for us defense-wise, offense-wise and special teams. And it keeps everybody on their toes when they kick it deep to us."
That is, if they kick it deep to him. After a rookie season that had him rank as one of the top three kick returners in football, his special teams coordinator only expects him to get better.
"He's going to be really good," said April. "I expect him to be our returner here for a long time and I expect him to have great results."
Voting is now open for the Bills Defensive MVP for 2008 at the web poll on the home page of Buffalobills.com. You have until midnight Thursday, Jan. 15 to cast your vote for either Terrence McGee, Kawika Mitchell, Paul Posluszny or Marcus Stroud.