2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Middle Linebackers

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Oct 25, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Taiwan Jones (34) celebrates defense stop during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 35-11. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Taiwan Jones, Michigan State

While sharing the same name as the current Raiders running back turned cornerback turned special teams gunner, Taiwan Jones shares almost nothing else with the athletic speedster. This Taiwan Jones, listed at 6’3″ and either 252 or 258 pounds, is physically a prototype middle linebacker, possessing the height and frame of bigger NFL starters like Brandon Spikes or Donte Hightower. While not the athletic superman that Benardrick McKinney is, Jones is a solid interior linebacker who was incredibly productive in college, part of a very good Michigan State defensive unit. He shows a wide array of physical tools and polished skills to play the position, especially against the inside run, where he is quick to react, fill, aggressively and powerfully take on blocks, and shut down plays. He also shows great pre-snap recognition, and attacks quickly against plays to the perimeter. He can be a menace in the backfield against the run and on the blitz, as well, and shows at least functional ability in coverage. While he isn’t physically a Del Rio type of linebacker, he possesses good speed and lateral quickness for his size, and will probably fit well into a Del Rio system, while Reggie McKenzie will love his strength, size and instincts at the position. Unfortunately, Jones does tend to struggle in situations requiring quick change of direction and quick read and react, and is often fooled by misdirection and doesn’t read his keys correctly. Some of that is correctable in minicamp and training camp, and some is correctable by Jones himself as he prepares for the Combine.

1. Wave Drill: Jones will need to prepare himself to get very good at the wave drill in order to shake some of the talk of him being slow to react and slow to change direction. The wave drill is designed to have the player do those two things exactly: react to a read quickly, and change direction quickly. While grading him in these two categories, evaluators will also have an opportunity to watch how quickly he shuffles and chops his feet as he moves laterally while facing the line of scrimmage, which is another area where Jones has shown some difficulty on tape.

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Buffalo Bills re-sign Taiwan Jones according to reports
Buffalo Bills re-sign Taiwan Jones according to reports /


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  • 2. Pass Drop/Hip Rotation Drills: While Jones has shown come capability in pass coverage at the college level, most analysts have him as a 2-down prospect initially because of his struggles with change of direction and fluid hip rotation, things he will need to have some competency in as a coverage linebacker. While he may not be able to completely change his entire career arc in this drill, showing improvement in some of the basic coverage movements should help him show signs that he is coachable at the next level, as well as that he can at some point be trusted to be on the field during a potential passing scenario.

    3. 90-Degree Catch Drill: This drill will be another chance for Jones to show that he has the ability to backpedal, break quickly and smoothly in opposite directions, and react to reads quickly. Like the pass drop and hip rotation drills, he will have to show fluidity of motion and smooth changes of direction and hip rotation, as well as a comfortable backpedal. Like the wave drill, he will also have to show how quickly he can react to sudden changes of aspect and then how quickly his body can move with his reaction. If he can, again, show up competently in this drill, he can allay some concerns about his athletic ability as a coverage linebacker. And, of course, like most position drills, if he works hard at all three of these drills, he is going to make himself into a better football player down the road.