Michigan State LB Taiwan Jones has demonstrated a physical style of play that will likely translate to the NFL. While he should become a force in the run game, his limited coverage ability has raised serious question from NFL scouts.
After growing accustomed to outside linebacker for three seasons, Taiwan Jones faced a difficult challenge before his senior season. Head coach Mark Dantonio asked him to move to middle linebacker and replace senior All-American Max Bullough. Jones proved to be highly effective in his new role, recording 60 tackles while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Not only did Jones find success, he also gained vital experience as the defensive signal caller. In anticipation of a professional career, Jones believes what he learned over the past year will serve him well throughout his rookie season and beyond.
"It helped me a lot," said Jones. "It made me a smarter player. When I was on the outside we had Max Bullough in the middle and he made a lot of the calls which allowed us to just go out there and play. When I came to the middle, I had younger guys in front of me. I had to get them lined up and tell them what to do. I had to make sure everyone was in the right position so that we could be a successful defense."
Initially, Jones admitted that the transition was not easy. While he had starting experience on the Spartan defense, it took him until his senior season to appreciate the challenges of the middle linebacker position.
"At first I didn't really know how much it took," said Jones. "I thought I knew everything but I only knew what I had to do. At the middle linebacker spot you need to know what everybody else does. It was eye-opening for me."
At the NFL level, Jones is unlikely to provide versatility, as demonstrated by his below average 40-time at the NFL scouting combine (4.95 seconds). Although he improved this number at his pro day, Jones has cemented himself as only a middle linebacker at the next level. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes that the newfound passing nature of the league will negatively impact the draft status of the New Baltimore, Michigan native.
"Jones is a true Mike (middle linebacker)," Kiper said. "In the old NFL, back in the 60's, 70's and 80's, he probably would have been a third, fourth round pick, but you need guys that can run and cover better. To me, he's more of a mid-to-late round type of guy now.''
Many analysts and scouts see Jones as best fit for a 3-4 defense, where he can use his size and punishing style of play to stuff the run. While it may take time for Jones to develop as an NFL linebacker, he will likely provide an instant impact on special teams.
Jones possesses many of the same attributes as current free agent Brandon Spikes. Although the opportunity still exists for Spikes to be re-signed, the 22-year old Jones is an intriguing option for Dennis Thurman's defense. With the Bills likely to add depth at linebacker through the draft, the former Spartan is a potential candidate for Doug Whaley and his staff.