Taiwan Jones’ NFL story hasn’t exactly been what the Bay Area native anticipated after he was drafted in the 4th round coming out of the 2011 NFL Draft as a junior out of Eastern Washington. Blessed with tons of speed, Jones ran roughshod over the FCS at EWU at running back during his three years. During EWU’s National title season he rushed for 1742 yards and 14 touchdowns before getting injured in the quarterfinals, where he rushed for a staggering 230 yards.
Drafted to add speed in the backfield alongside Darren McFadden, Jones’ career as a running back didn’t quite get on track. Part of that was due to a lack of opportunities in the depth chart. In 2011 Jones managed to get 16 rushes as a rookie, last season Jones was handed the ball just six times, showing signs that Jones’ career might be over in Oakland before it every really started. Reggie McKenzie had different plans.
Recruited by EWU to play cornerback, McKenzie announced during the offseason that Jones would attempt to learn cornerback in the NFL, a rare sight in the modern game where positions are specialized from college to the pros. This offseason all eyes would be on Jones as he attempted to learn the kinks of playing pass coverage in the NFL a massive step up from high school and FCS experience at the position.
Yet on Friday night when the Raiders beat the Cowboys 19-17, Jones showed the potential that Reggie McKenzie sees in the former 4th rounder at cornerback. After taking some time to adjust in first couple of drives, Jones managed to break up two passes on consecutive plays to earn the attention of players, coaches and fans.
In the postgame press conference, Jones was optimistic about his potential to grow at the position, but conceded that he is still learning and it took awhile to adjust from playing corner at training camp practice to playing in an NFL game, even a preseason one.
“I feel pretty good. Sometimes where I messed up on my leverage so that last drive, that’s what I focused on and it put me in a position to make plays. . . the longer I stayed in there, the better I felt. When I first got out there, it was kinda going a little fast and I was a little anxious to make plays and it started going a little slow but the more I was in there, the better I felt, the more comfortable I got.
“It counts in the end and I was able to make those plays in the end to help end the game so as long as I’m getting better, I’m happy with that.”
Jones is a player who could realistically adjust to playing cornerback and thrive at it if he manages to harness his potential. A track athlete as well as a football player in high school Jones managed to run a 10.53 as a teenager in the 100 meter sprints and that athleticism will allow him to make up for inexperience in the time being as the Raiders coaching staff tries to guide him through the change.
His biggest advantage might be the veteran leadership of the Raiders secondary brought in by Reggie McKenzie. Established NFL defensive backs are there to help teach Jones the art of pass coverage and being a lockdown corner, including one of the best defensive backs of all time in Charles Woodson. The tutelage of those players is a huge asset that is already paying dividends in Jones development as he is in a positive environment with the winning atmosphere that is coming out of Raiders camp so far.
A stud on special teams it is likely that Jones will make the Raiders 53 man roster based on his versatility in punt and kick coverage, his willingness to do whatever earns him more time on the field increasing his value to Dennis Allen and McKenzie.
Moving Jones to cornerback is another move that shows off the genius of Reggie McKenzie who saw a way to get potential out of fourth round pick that appeared to have reached the dead end of his career. Now at cornerback, Jones is a rookie again, a promising one at that. If the Bay Area native of Deer Valley High School can keep making plays and steering the course of the steep learning curve he is a facing, he could be an absolute steal of a depth cornerback and special teams guy for the Raiders.
Not bad for a guy that at the end of 2012 was looking like he would be a cut and was playing a completely different position. Jones has new life, and new potential at the corner.