About 50 NFL scouts, coaches and executives (including 18 running backs coaches) were at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Calif., to watch one private workout. And if you don't follow FCS football closely, you may not even know the name of the player they came to watch.
Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones, the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, finally got to run the 40-yard dash everyone had been expecting and hoping to see. Jones suffered a broken foot late in the 2010 season, which kept him out of the FCS Championship game (which EWU still won without him) and workouts at the scouting combine. However, those in the scouting community were well-aware of Jones' raw speed, and knew that when fully healed, he could put up numbers in the range of those established by current Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (4.24 at the combine) and Kansas City Chiefs back Jamaal Charles (4.28).
After serious work and rehab at Athletes Performance in Carson, Calif., (a bit of which we caught on tape recently), Jones flew up to the Bay Area and put on a major show in front of what San Francisco 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman told one observer was the biggest NFL attendance for a private workout he had ever seen. API's Travelle Gaines told Yahoo! Sports that Jones ran one 40 and times in the range of 4.27 to 4.35 on all stopwatches. Jones was also timed at 1.45 to 1.50 seconds in his 10-yard split by four different stopwatches, and that would have been the fastest 10-yard split at the 2011 scouting combine. This could really push Jones up quite a few draft boards. Currently seen as a third- to fifth-round prospect, Jones may jump up a bit higher based on Thursday.
"Actually, I felt like I could have done a little better with my 40 and my vertical, but I thought I exceeded everyone's expectations on everything else," Jones told Yahoo! Sports soon after the workout. "I felt that I didn't stay in my drive phase in the beginning [of the run], and I didn't start as strongly as I needed to."
And how did the training at API help? "For the most part, it just got my confidence up," said Jones, who just started running again at full speed three weeks ago and hadn't run an official timed 40 before today since last summer. "Everyone knew that I could run fast, but it was just getting the confidence to push off that foot. That was the biggest part for me today.
Jones is well aware of the Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles comparisons — he's heard them for a long time — but this was the first time he was able to show the majority of NFL teams (representative of 27 teams showed up) that he had that kind of speed in person. "I've always felt that I could be as good as the guys on that level," Jones said of the college and pro elite. But to be named with those names in an honor, and now, I feel that I have to go out there and prove it."
Still, Jones knows that it just isn't about straight-line speed — teams will look at the game tape to see what he's really all about in a football sense. What does he have to offer besides that blazing speed? "Just the way I move my body — I'm able to bend my body in ways that most big backs can't. I feel that this is what separates me from a lot of the backs in this year's class."
Jones also put up a 39.5-inch vertical leap (which would have been third among running backs at the combine), and an 11-foot broad jump, which would have been second overall at the combine behind Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who was universally acknowledged as the star of the 2011 event.
In 31 games for the Eagles, Jones carried the ball 383 times for 2,955 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also caught 64 passes for 903 yards and seven touchdowns, and took 50 kick returns for 1,134 yards and one touchdown.