After running a 4.3 40-yard dash at his pro-day at Eastern Washington, no one was really surprised that Taiwan Jones would be wearing the silver and black jersey of his hometown Oakland Raiders. Al Davis craved speed and Jones looked like the perfect speed back to complement running back Darren McFadden. However, over the next two years, Jones did not see the field enough as a running back and only has 22 career carries.
Although Jones struggled as a running back, he became a star player on special teams by recording 19 tackles during his two years in the NFL. Jones’ excellent tackling has led the Raiders brass to make the decision to switch him to cornerback.
During the 2011 draft, Reggie McKenzie actually had Jones pegged as a cornerback not a running back when he was in the Green Bay Packers draft room. Jones had all the intangibles of an NFL caliber cornerback with his good size, great speed, and NBA-like vertical (6’0, 4.33 40-yard dash, 39 ½ inch vertical).
Jones was actually recruited as a cornerback at Eastern Washington and started four games on defense in 2008. The next two years he started at running back after Eastern Washington lost their running backs, and his prior history at corner can help him during his transition this offseason.
Can someone who only started four games in college be an effective NFL cornerback? It still remains to be seen, but I think Jones has all the natural ability to make the switch. Former Raiders defensive backs coach and NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson stated that Jones is one of the fastest players he has ever seen on the field.
Not only is Jones blazing fast, but he has shown that he is an excellent tackler in the open field which is a good sign for his transition to defense. You can’t be an NFL cornerback without the ability to cover opposing wide receivers and tight ends (unless your name is Stanford Routt). We will soon find out in mini-camp and training camp if Jones can learn the techniques of being an NFL cornerback.
In an ideal world, Jones will be playing nickel back and in dime packages for the Raiders on Sundays next season. Imagine number 22 blazing off the corner on a blitz and lighting up Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning or Alex Smith. He can also chase down opposing players when they inevitably get through the Raiders’ weak front seven.
If Jones creates turnovers he will be a threat to take it to the house because of his experience as running back, and he will likely be the fastest player on the field. We still don’t know what he can bring to the table and he might not even make the team out of training camp, but the Raiders will give Jones every opportunity to play some cornerback come week 1 against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.