Taiwan Jones is a smaller back from a smaller school

Published on April 19, 2011 by     Seahawks.Com News (Feed)

Taiwan Jones is a smaller back from a smaller school, but after the numbers he put up at Eastern Washington the NFL will find a place for him to play.

Taiwan Jones came to Eastern Washington University as a cornerback. He leaves as one of the most productive ball carriers in school history.

And he made it look easy, from the first time he touched the ball. On that initial carry, in 2009, Jones went 87 yards for a touchdown. Last season, he ranked second in the FCS by averaging 145.2 rushing yards and 201.8 all-purpose yards.

What’s not to like about Jones as teams are preparing for the NFL Draft on April 28-30?

2011 DRAFT: RUNNING BACKS
A look at the positions heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

Rank Player, School Projection
1/12 Mark Ingram, Alabama First Round
2/36 Mike LeShoure, Illinois First/Second Round
3/47 Ryan Williams, Va. Tech Second Round
4/58 DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma Second/Third Round
5/72 Daniel Thomas, Kansas St. Second/Third Round
What’s it all mean? Well, there’s Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. “He’s the one guy that really belongs in the first round,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. After that, it depends on what you’re looking for, and who’s available. Or, as McShay put it, “There will be a lot of running backs available in the mid-round range.” Translation: It’s all about the depth, not the quality, if you’re looking for a back this year.

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His durability. During his three-season stay in Cheney, the 6-foot, 194-pound Jones missed time with, or played through, an assortment of ailments: a broken fibula that forced him to miss the first four games in 2008; hand, shoulder and hip injuries in 2009; sports hernia surgery that caused him to miss spring scrimmages last year; an abdominal contusion that forced him to miss one game last season; and then a fractured left foot in the Eagles’ second playoff game that ended his season.

The foot injury also prevented Jones from participating at the scouting combine in February, and led to a little piling on when it came to evaluating him as a runner/returner at the NFL level.

“The one thing that stands out is he has speed. He is explosive,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay offered. “When you start to look at the late-round prospects and free agency, it will be interesting to see because the trend in the last few years in the NFL has been for teams to draft running backs and wide receivers to be their return guys.”

Late-round prospect? Free agent? Doesn’t a back with Jones’ production deserve better than that, even with his durability issues?

Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, has been high on Jones while others have downplayed his potential. Rang ranks Jones No. 9 among the running backs and 108th overall, and projects him to be selected in the third or fourth round.

And Rang sounds like even that might be selling Jones short.

“Bar none, Taiwan Jones is the most explosive open-field runner in the 2011 draft,” Rang said. “There are certainly durability and level-of-competition questions, but in a draft class with few true burners, Jones stands out.

“He lacks the bulk to be an every-down, bell-cow back, but he’s an ideal complimentary runner with the big-play ability to change a game.”

Just like Jones did in repeated games at Eastern. Bring up his durability and production against a lower-level of competition to Jones and he just smiles.

“When you’re a small-school guy, you’ve definitely got a chip on your shoulder,” Jones said at the combine. “You always feel like you’ve got something to prove.”

Perhaps it had something to do with him knowing he would do just that, when healthy. At his recent Pro Day workout, Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, popped a 39½-inch vertical leap and also had an 11-foot broad jump.

Then there are his on-the-field numbers: a 36.3-yard average retuning seven kickoffs in 2008, including a 93-yarder for a touchdown; 1,213 rushing yards, 15 TDs and 40 receptions in 12 games in 2009, his first season at running back; 1,742 rushing yards and a 20.6-yard average returning kickoffs last season.

Asked what separates him from the other backs in this draft class – a group that begins with former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and also includes Mikel LeShoure – Jones offered, “I definitely think my speed and my elusiveness. And being able to shed tackles in the open field definitely separates me from the group.”

Asked to describe himself as a player, Jones took an equally direct route: “I’m just a playmaker. There’s always a chance where I can score, no matter what situation it is. I definitely can do some good things when the ball is in my hands.”

Which only prompts another question: How is that a player with those skills ended up at Eastern Washington?

“I got overlooked by a lot of schools,” said Jones, who played at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif. “Eastern was the only team that offered me a full-ride.”

But even then, Jones wasn’t moved to offense until the coaches got a look at him on the scout team.

“Once they saw me with the ball in my hands – playing scout offense against the first-team defense – they kind of starting thinking about giving me the ball,” he said.

For Jones, his recruiting trip to Cheney turned into a love-at-almost-first-sight visit.

“I got to meet the seniors and everybody in the locker room,” he said. “That kind of grew on me. I went for the chance to play football, and they gave it to me.”

Now, Jones is looking for that chance once again, and wondering which NFL team will oblige. He talked to so many teams at the combine – answering basically the same questions – that he was having trouble keeping them straight.

“It’s definitely a dream come true, because I always felt I was a big secret to everybody,” Jones said. “So to know that these NFL teams know about me, it’s an honor and it’s just exciting.

“Even if they’re asking me the same questions over and over, at least they’re asking.”

2011 Draft: Running Backs

A look at the positions heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

Rank Player, School Ht. Wt. Projection
1/12 Mark Ingram, Alabama 5-9 215 First Round
2/36 Mike LeShoure, Illinois 6-0 227 First/Second Round
3/47 Ryan Williams, Va. Tech 5-11 212 Second Round
4/58 DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma 6-0 213 Second/Third Round
5/72 Daniel Thomas, Kansas St. 6-0 230 Second/Third Round
What’s it all mean? Well, there’s Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. “He’s the one guy that really belongs in the first round,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. After that, it depends on what you’re looking for, and who’s available. Or, as McShay put it, “There will be a lot of running backs available in the mid-round range.” Translation: It’s all about the depth, not the quality, if you’re looking for a back this year.

What about? Roy Helu. He put up big-time numbers (1,245 rushing yards and a 6.6-yard average last season) at a big-time school (Nebraska). But he also is ranked as only the 13th-best back in a so-so class by Rang. “He has talent, no question about it,” said McShay, who projects Helu as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect. “But, first of all, there’s a lot of production that comes from a very good offensive line that dominated lesser competition. The biggest thing I see with Helu is I just don’t think he’s as physical as he should be. I don’t think he plays to his size (6-foot, 219). I don’t think he’s the competitive runner you want as your every-down back.”

What’s up with? Charles Clay. He’s the top-rated fullback in this year’s draft class, but also Rang’s No. 121 player overall. Fewer teams are in the market for traditional fullbacks, but then the 6-foot-3, 239-pounder from Tulsa isn’t your typical fullback. In addition to doing some lead blocking, Clay also played tailback, tight end, wide receiver, defensive end and H-back, as well as Wildcat QB. That versatility, and his surprising productivity (38 career touchdowns, 2,544 receiving yards), should get him drafted in the third or fourth round.

Seahawks situation? With the running backs available in this draft, the trade last October for Marshawn Lynch looks even better; the selection of Justin Forsett in the seventh round three years ago looks like even more of a steal; and the re-signing of Leon Washington in March makes even more sense.

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