Southward first Badger selected in draft, to Falcons in third round
MAY 09, 2014 10:13p ET
Despite all the talk in Wisconsin about which former Badgers player -- Chris Borland or Jared Abbrederis -- would be selected first in the NFL Draft, another name emerged somewhat unexpectedly: Safety Dezmen Southward.
Southward instead became the first former Wisconsin player taken in the 2014 draft when the Atlanta Falcons nabbed him with the 68th overall pick in the third round Friday night.
Southward's rise came after he wasn't even allowed to participate at the NFL Combine in February because doctors had flagged his X-rays over a supposed fracture in his fifth cervical vertebrae. Southward wasn't medically cleared until after the Combine, which left his pro scouting day at Wisconsin in March as a final opportunity to impress scouts.
That day, Southward didn't disappoint.
Southward ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds and recorded a 42-inch vertical jump. Only one player at the Combine, former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, recorded a 42-inch vertical leap. Shazier was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 15 on Thursday night.
Southward, a 6-foot, 211-pounder, acknowledged after his pro day that there was "a lot of buzz growing" about him, and the Falcons agreed. He became the third Atlanta player taken in the draft, joining Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews (No. 6, first round) and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman (No. 37, second round).
Southward's durability at Wisconsin was unquestioned. He set a school record by playing in 54 games and never missed a game over his four-year career. He recorded 152 total tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, forced four fumbles, made two interceptions and broke up 11 passes.
"He made a lot of plays," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on the television broadcast. "This kid has a nose for the ball. You see his eyes and you see how quick he reacts. (I) like watching this kid play. Some guys, you say, 'Hey put on the tape and you enjoy watching a kid play because of his impact when he hits and he loves to play football.'
"You love the enthusiasm that Dez Southward plays with. He tackles you. He takes you to the ground. . . . I think (he was) a little underrated in the Big Ten. Didn't get a lot of national notoriety, but this kid is around the ball a lot."
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