In a move that came as a bit of a surprise to Wisconsin fans, Dezmen Southward became the first Badger off the board when he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 68th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
It was widely assumed that either Chris Borland or Jared Abbrederis would be the first Wisconsin alum taken in this year’s draft, but the Falcons opted to take a bit of a risk by taking Southward in the early stages of the third round.
Projected to be either a fourth or fifth round pick, Southward, who could play corner and safety, was likely able to convince Atlanta to gamble on him thanks to his extremely impressive performance during UW’s pro day back in March. He dazzled spectators and scouts alike by running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, recording a broad jump of 10 feet 4 inches, and hitting 42 inches in the vertical jump.
It was a tremendous showing for Southward, who just 10 days earlier was unexpectedly held out of the NFL Combine after a doctor incorrectly diagnosed him with a crack in his C5 vertebrae. To put his pro day numbers into perspective, his 40 time was just one hundredth of a second off the fastest time among defensive backs at the Combine, while his vertical jump would’ve been the best of anyone at his position.
Despite the injury questions that kept him out of the Combine, Southward has proven to be extremely durable during his career at Wisconsin, setting a school record by playing in 54 consecutive games for the Badgers.
During his career at UW, he recorded 152 tackles, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions. For his efforts, he was named a consensus all-Big Ten honorable mention in both 2012 and 2013.
Southward is a player that unquestionably has a ton of upside, and the Falcons will likely look for him to replace Thomas DeCoud, who was released in March, in the Atlanta secondary while also playing a role on special teams.
Make no mistake, Southward is definitely a raw talent that will require a lot of developing to reach his full potential, but he has a very high ceiling and could make the Falcons gamble pay off in a big way in the near future. His durability and athleticism will help him immeasurably as he tries to become a reliable safety in Atlanta.
Not too bad for a guy that didn’t play his first year of high school football until he was a senior.