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NFL Draft 2014: Dezmen Southward joins Wisconsin safeties in NFL

Dezmen Southward joins three former Badgers safeties now in the NFL.


Dezmen Southward was the lone upperclassman in Wisconsin's starting secondary in 2013. Leading first-year starter cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hilary, and safety Michael Caputo, Southward capped a Wisconsin career in which he never missed one of 54 games. The Sunrise, Florida, native only started playing football in his senior year of high school, but worked his way up to start at safety in his final two seasons at UW.

Friday night, Southward was the 68th overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons, becoming the first Wisconsin player to be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft and the highest drafted safety in Badgers' history.

Southward's impressive pro day in early March obviously helped his cause after he was sidelined for the NFL Combine by a misdiagnosed neck injury. His 40-yard-dash times were posted between 4.31 and 4.38 seconds, and he leaped out of his cleats with a 42-inch vertical jump. Both times would have put him near the top of the 2014 safety class, but most draft experts didn't have him pegged as high as the third round. In fact, Southward is the first Wisconsin defensive back drafted since cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu in 2008 (fourth round)

Judging from the chart below, Southward has a chance to become one of UW's more productive pro safeties.

Shelton Johnson UDFA, 2013 / Oakland Raiders 1 season /4 total tackles (4 games) Signed to Raiders' active roster in December 2013
Chris Maragos UDFA, 2010 / San Francisco 49ers 4 seasons /37 career tackles Won Super Bowl with Seahawks
Roderick Rogers UDFA, 2007 / Denver Broncos 2 seasons / 7 career tackles
Jim Leonhard UDFA, 2005 / Buffalo Bills 9 seasons /385 career tackles, 12 career interceptions Played for 4 NFL teams
Jason Doering 6th, 2001 / Indianapolis 4 seasons /91 career tackles
Bobby Myers 4th, 2000 / Tennessee Titans 3 seasons / 4 career tackles

Everyone knows the story of Jim Leonhard and Chris Maragos. Both were former walk-ons, and both in recent memory have made the greatest pro impacts among Wisconsin safeties. Leonhard will enter his 10th season in the NFL in 2014 if he signs with another team, and Maragos -- now a Philadelphia Eagle -- was a solid fixture in the formidable Seattle Seahawks special teams that helped win Super Bowl XLVII in February.

Southward's going to a team in in need of some defensive adjustments. The Falcons tied for 27th in total defense in 2013, as well as 21st against the pass. They play more of a 4-3 base defense, and have signed veteran free agents Dwight Lowery, Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas to compete in training camp behind hard-hitting safety William Moore and second-year cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

Whether Southward starts or not will depend on how he adjusts to the pro game. You saw the athletic gifts he displayed over four seasons, yet he's still only played football for a handful of years. Southward is still raw to an extent, as Andrew explained in March, and he also moved between nickel cornerback and safety at times through last season and in Senior Bowl workouts. At times, his coverage skills appeared to be hampered, but he still was one of the leaders on Wisconsin's 2013 defense that finished seventh in total defense.