When the new coaching staff came onboard last season it appeared they had no place for Taiwan Jones. He seemed to be in the thick of the competition at running back in the preseason only to fall out of favor due to ball security issues.
As the season went on, Darren McFadden went down injured and the team opted for Mike Goodson as the primary back. Then Mike Goodson went down but instead of going with Jones, the team opted to go with Marcel Reece and newly activated undrafted rookie Jeremy Stewart.
It was painfully clear coaches didn't trust him to handle the ball and he was rendered without a role on this team.
Near the end of the season, I posed the question to Taiwan about whether he had considered trying his hand at cornerback. It was a position he had played in high school so it seemed like an interesting thought. His response was interesting and, though I didn't know at the time, turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing for him actually being switched to cornerback.
The switch was a risky one for Taiwan. It was not usual that players make such a change successfully and if things didn't go well, it would mean his departure from this team. But it was a risk he was willing to take because with the way things were going at his current position, he was already on the outside looking in.
Many fans and NFL minds alike wrote Jones off or simply didn't give him much of a thought at all. He was buried on the depth chart at cornerback and looked as if he was on a slow march to being among those cleaning out their lockers on cutdown day.
His number 22 seemed destined to be shifted to Tracy Porter who was forced to give up the number 24 to Charles Woodson before training camp. But Taiwan wouldn't be giving up his number. Porter now wears number 23.
How did he do it? He made himself into arguably the best special teams gunners in the NFL. He currently sits third in the NFL with 11 special teams tackles. He has also forced a fumble on special teams and in the past four games the coaches have entrusted him to return kicks again.
Now, just a couple months from when many expected to see his name among the final roster cuts, we see his name on a Pro Bowl ballot. I caught up with him on Friday to ask him what he thought about his sudden Pro Bowl rumblings.
"I think it's pretty cool," Jones said of his Pro Bowl notice. "It definitely was one of my goals coming into the season and I worked hard for it every day, so for others to take notice it feels pretty good."
"I really believed it, every day, every time I stepped on the field my mindset is to make a difference. I don't want to be one of those guys who's just out there, I don't wanna just be here to fill the roster, I wanna make a difference and be productive. My role being special teams, I'm able to make a difference and seeing them happy when I do so makes me work that much harder."
For Taiwan, it's a culmination of his hard work and sacrifice for the sake of making his NFL career any way they'll let him.
"It's a privilege to be in the NFL so I hope it'll be a long career," said Jones. "That's pretty much my goal, stay in the league a while.
His goals have shifted from the starry eyed young hopeful who the Raiders chose in round five of the 2011 draft. Now, he can see making a nice long career as a special teamer. And he had guidance from a guy who went through a similar NFL experience as he did, moving from being a running back to special teams maven.
"When I first came in, one of the guys that took me under his wing was Rock Cartwright," Jones continued. "He spent ten plus years in the league just on special teams so I had a lot of influence by him. He pretty much told me, ‘don't get discouraged that you're not playing running back'. It's always our dream to be a starter at something but God's got a different plan for everybody."
Taiwan Jones' journey to this point fits right in with some of those we have heard from other current Raiders who have had the fortitude to overcome their obstacles and carve out their niche. If he keeps it up, that niche will lead him to Hawaii in January.
To vote for this year's Pro Bowl, click here.