In high school, Taiwan Jones played running back and cornerback. Jones was actually recruited as a cornerback, but switched to running back as a sophomore. Jones dominated the Big Sky Conference as an offensive player, but struggled to stay healthy.
It’s not surprising that Al Davis drafted Jones in the 2011 NFL draft, because he has 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash. Davis loved speed and that’s well known. As was usually the case, though, Jones was more of an athlete than football player. Jones lacks the ideal size to play running back at the NFL level and his ball security issues have kept him off the field.
Fast-forward two years and Reggie McKenzie is moving Jones to cornerback, as Jones himself suggested late last year. With the switch, Jones has an opportunity to put his NFL career back on track. It became abundantly clear last year that the Raiders had no intention of giving Jones carries when a running back signed off the practice squad was given carries ahead of him.
Absent a switch, Jones’ NFL career was probably over. Jones just doesn’t have the frame to absorb the punishment as a running back at the NFL level, but he did show promise on special teams. Since Jones has proven to be a willing tackler in space on special teams and is as athletically gifted as just about any cornerback in the league, he has a very real chance to develop.
“I think it fits his skill set. I think we’re going to see how he does there,” McKenzie told ESPN’s Bill Williamson. McKenzie said he’d be thrilled if Jones can develop into a nickel cornerback and actually had Jones projected as a cornerback when the Raiders drafted him.
As a cornerback, Jones has a lot of potential. He’s obviously going to be extremely raw, but the skill set is there. Size was an issue for Jones at running back, but at cornerback he’s much closer to average. One of the other things Jones has in his favor are his fluid hips.
One of the problems with most cornerbacks is the ability to flip their hips. It wouldn’t matter how fast Jones can run if he can’t transition from his backpedal. If you didn’t know Jones ever played running back, he’d look like a cornerback. Jones’ ability on special teams might give him a little extra time to refine his technique as a defensive back.
The coaches at Eastern Washington University were actually reluctant to move Jones to the offensive side of the ball. Jones’ head coach Beau Baldwin openly questioned his decision to keep Jones on defense in 2008, “I had no way of knowing what he might have been capable of doing as a running back as a redshirt freshman, and we were a little inexperienced at corner,” Baldwin said (via The Spokesman-Review). “Could I have been wrong? Maybe, I don’t know. But if I was wrong in 2008, I didn’t want to be wrong in 2009.”
As it turns out, moving Jones to running back might have been best for his college career, but his pro career will rely on his ability to play cornerback. The only reason Jones is being given the opportunity to convert to cornerback is because he has some experience there, his skill set fits, the Raiders need defensive backs and his contract is reasonable.
Jones has run with every opportunity he has ever been given, both figuratively and literally. Jones overcame dyslexia and small-school status to run a blazing 40-yard dash time that put him on the NFL’s radar. Jones will have to learn to literally run backward in order to advance his NFL career, and I’m not betting against him.