The Oakland Raiders drafted Taiwan Jones in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the idea that his speed would make him an elite running back and create a dangerous one-two combo with Darren McFadden. Fast forward to the 2013 training camp and Jones is now competing to make the roster as a cornerback.
Despite the fact that his speed made him a threat at times in the running game, ball security and vision made the coaching staff question whether or not he could succeed as a running back in the NFL. As a result, both he and the coaches decided he should try switching to cornerback, a position he played when he first entered college, but stopped after finding success as a running back.
Jones ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, so he has the speed to play the corner position, but he’s inexperienced. Not a great position to be in considering the depth at corner on the Raiders right now. After an offseason that brought three new corners, the Raiders find themselves with a solid unit.
First round pick D.J. Hayden is projected to be a starter if healthy. Opposite him will most likely be Mike Jenkins, while Joselio Hanson and Tracy Porter will battle it out for the nickel corner position. In addition to those guys, the Raiders also have Philip Adams, who showed good potential late in the 2012 season and guys like Brandian Ross and Chimdi Chekwa who have hung around the roster or practice squad for a few years now.
Clearly the Raiders aren’t going to enter the season with eight cornerbacks, so some of those guys will not make the team. But while Adams, Ross and Chekwa may have more experience at CB, Jones has a talent that makes him more valuable on the roster than any of those guys.
When asked to comment on how Jones was doing during training camp, head coach Dennis Allen said: “It’s been a difficult transition for him, but when it comes down to the roster, he’s one of the best special teams players in this league.” While not being able to excel as a running back, Jones has found success as a special teams gunner. His speed and good form tackling have easily made him the best special teams player on the Raiders the past few years and it is not out of line for Allen to put him up there as one of the best special teamers in the NFL.
Reggie McKenzie and Allen have both preached the importance of special teams since arriving in Oakland and clearly, Allen values what Jones brings to the table in that department, despite his deficiencies at corner.
Now that the Raiders have brought in Joshua Cribbs, a guy known for his return skills but who is also a very good special teams player in kick coverage as well, the Raiders are poised to have one of the better kick coverage units in the entire NFL. Allen probably doesn’t plan on cutting Jones and missing out on such a strong special teams unit, even if Jones does not make a solid 5th CB.