Chris Hansen, his former position coach at Eastern Washington University, called it “a million-dollar day.”
But when Taiwan Jones looks back on the stunning performance he put on for nearly 50 National Football League scouts during his pro day in Pittsburg, Calif., last week, he views it as little more than another chance to prove his doubters wrong.
“I don’t pay much attention to what everyone in the media is saying,” said the 6-foot-1, 196-pound running back, who many experts believe greatly enhanced his status for the upcoming NFL draft by wowing scouts with a 39½-inch vertical jump and 40-yard dash times ranging from 4.25 to 4.34 seconds. “There’s a lot of different things about me that have been put out there, like me fumbling over 19 times in college, so I don’t get too caught up in all of the (draft) projections.
“But I do think everybody was surprised how fast I was, especially not being as healthy as I could have been.”
Jones, despite missing three games and parts of two other because of injuries, still managed to rush for 1,742 yards and 17 touchdowns last fall in helping Eastern win its first-ever NCAA Division I Football Championship. And shortly after watching from the sidelines with a broken foot as the Eagles knocked off Delaware 20-19 in the title game, he announced he would forego his senior season and declare for the draft.
Remarkably, Jones considers himself to be at only “85 to 90 percent” physically because of the foot injury he suffered during Eastern’s 38-31 overtime win over North Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs back on Dec. 11.
According to Jones, who flew to Miami earlier this week to visit with Dolphins officials and then met with the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday, he still does not feel completely comfortable pushing off with the injured foot, which prevented him from taking part in this year’s Indianapolis Combine.
Jones spent a couple of months in Los Angeles earlier this year working with Athletes’ Performance training center, where he was assigned a nutritionist to help him with his diet. While there, he was able to get his weight up over 200 pounds, but it has since dropped back to 196, which some scouts – especially those who question his durability – feel isn’t enough.
Still, since returning to his home in Antioch, Calif., Jones has met with representative from several NFL teams, including Kansas City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Detroit. But he admits he still does not have a good feel for where he might land in this year’s draft, the first-round of which will be held April 28.
Mock drafts predict Jones could go as early as the second round, which will be conducted on April 29 with little likelihood of his falling into the third day of the draft.
“From what I can tell, it could still be anywhere from the first to the fourth round,” Jones said. “But you never really know until draft day, which is why I’m not putting too much into what people are writing and saying about me.”
Jones expects to watch the draft from his home, along with his parents and his five brothers and one sister.
“At the moment, we don’t have anything big planned,” he said.
But that, he admits, could change if he happens to slip up into the first round.
Either way, the young man with the infectious smile, startling speed and unworldly moves with a football in his hands, nurses no regrets over his decision to make an early exit from Eastern.
“From the moment I made it, I was committed to it,” he said. “I still stay in touch with some of my teammates back at Eastern, because they were always more than just teammates – they were family. But I’m still definitely glad I made the decision I made.
“It’s been a wonderful journey for me, so far, because playing in the NFL has always been my dream.”