Orchard Park, NY -- It was April of 2008, with the Buffalo Bills on the clock at the 11th overall selection of the NFL Draft. The team needs at the time called for a taller option at wide receiver and an athletic cornerback to pair with Terrence McGee.
With no wide receiver worthy of the 11th overall pick -- or even a first round selection that year for that matter -- the Bills had their pick of the litter for cornerbacks in the class. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Jenkins, Aqib Talib, Brandon Flowers and Antoine Cason all on the board, the Bills went with one of the most impressive athletic specimen available.
They went down to Troy, Alabama, and pegged Leodis McKelvin as their first round selection.
While not the biggest cornerback at 5-foot-10 and 190-pounds, McKelvin possessed the vaunted 'p' word that makes the NFL Draft such a valued weekend by fans. The trait the Troy Trojan teased was "potential."
Running a 4.38 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine and watching some of his play whilst in college, McKelvin looked like he could evolve in to the total package.
Just read what NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said back during the 2008 Senior Bowl when he rated the future Bill as his top cornerback in the nation:
"In my opinion, the guy that does more than anything in the country [for cornerbacks] is the kid from Troy. Why? He drives on the football, he has a tremendous opportunity to play in the punt return game but when you watch coach's tape, you can really see the quickness and change in direction in his acceleration."
Little did he know at the time, but one of the next things Mayock would say went on to be the characteristic that would haunt McKelvin throughout his first four seasons in the league.
"The only thing he doesn't have are ball skills," Mayock wisely said.
And that has been the factor that, in a nutshell, has held McKelvin back from reaching his full potential.
For a time in his rookie season, it looked as though he would be able to shed that label. In just his second career start, McKelvin picked off two passes against a hapless Kansas City team with Tyler Thigpen as their quarterback, returning one of them for a touchdown.
After four seasons -- one of which cut way short by a season-ending leg injury -- those two picks in one game would make up exactly 40-percent of his career interceptions.
Frustrated by his lack of an impact but not totally worn thin to that point, fans still had a shred of optimism about McKelvin heading in to 2011. That was until his slew of play that made some Bills fans feel like they were on the set of the movie Groundhog Day.
McKelvin lived right up to Mayock's billing during the 2011 season. He showed the overall speed, change of direction and explosion to stick with high profile receivers such as Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Dallas' Dez Bryant and even the lesser known but equally as explosive Denarius Moore of Oakland. But when the ball was in the air in specific times against all three of those players, it equaled in the same result.
McKelvin was right there looking at the football on the way in while having position to make a play, but allowed the receiver to go over the top of him and pluck the ball out of the air for a highlight reel catch.
Following the Bills' Week 10 loss to Dallas, McKelvin was in the proverbial doghouse with Head Coach Chan Gailey. Not only was he relegated to special teams, but he was also passed by on the depth chart by seventh round rookie Justin Rogers.
Despite the overall frustration of that season, McKelvin stayed upbeat.
"It was challenging, but I'll do whatever it takes for us to win. No matter what it is, I just want to win," he said after the Bills' first session of Organized Team Activities Tuesday. "I'll do whatever it takes to win -- if I'm starting or if it be anything that happens like an injury happens or I'm demoted down to special teams, whatever I've got to do to make us win I will."
Moving on the the 2012 campaign, McKelvin has a chance to finally prove a mistake wasn't made when the Bills took him in the first round in 2008. A surprise to some, McKelvin got the first team reps alongside 2012 first round pick Stephon Gilmore as OTAs opened up at One Bills Drive.
While it's still May, it's an opportunity McKelvin knows he can't let slip, and stressed how to make the most out of the final season of his rookie contract.
"I mean just stay focused. Just keep doing things I've been doing, just make a play on the ball," he said. "Pretty much every thing that happened to me last year was just getting beat on jump balls. It wasn't like I wasn't there to make a play. So, I'll just stay focused and do what I need to do."
The Bills have said it in passing at various press conferences in the off-season -- that McKelvin could be in line for a very good season in his contract year. Those words that were just an afterthought at the time were confirmed by a source close to the team. The Bills really think McKelvin could make a big leap this year in production.
As for McKelvin, he knows there's one quick fix for going about it.
"Just get my hands on the ball. If I get my hands on the ball my production will be way up."
A simple concept, but one McKelvin has yet to master. By the looks of it, however, he'll get a chance to prove himself in 2012.
Some believe that McKelvin could have turned out differently to this point in time had he not broken his fibula in the third game of 2009. Whatever a changed course of history could have provided, the simple fact is that the onus for the future of his career lies directly on him heading in to this season -- and most notably, his hands.
Running low on continued chances on defense, McKelvin knows the time is now for him to make the jump.
"Just make plays," he said. "Just go out there and get production. That's the only thing they're really worried about is production. If I go out there and get production, everything else is going to happen for a reason."
In the final year of his rookie deal, McKelvin has a salary cap hit of roughly $2.49 million, while the actual cash he'll be making is in the range of $1.3 million. He's battling along with Gilmore, McGee and second-year player Aaron Williams to be starting cornerbacks for the Bills in 2012.