While Dezmen Southward was probably not at the top of anyone's list as a coveted free safety draft prospect, the Falcons addressed the need at this position by selecting Southward in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. When you look at Southward's measurables and grand potential, it's easy to see why.
Southward's size is ideal for the position. At 6'0" and 211 pounds, he's big enough to hang with larger receivers and tight ends, but has the straight-line speed to keep up with slot receivers. Southward was known in college for his sure tackling skills, which should be a welcome change for Falcons fans should Southward get the opportunity to start at free safety. Southward has excellent body control and does not shy away from contact.
Southward was invited to the Combine, but was not permitted to work out for medical reasons. He was the center of attention at his pro day, clocking an official 4.35 40-yard dash. Southward also posted a 10'04" broad jump, ran the shuttle drill in 4.37 seconds and the three cone drill in 6.50 seconds, and had an unreal 42" vertical jump.
Southward also has the versatility to be a valuable part of a Mike Nolan defense. He played some nickel back at Wisconsin last season, and the Falcons coaching staff put Southward in a cornerback role at the Senior Bowl. Southward has a high level of familiarity with Atlanta's coaching staff, which he says is making his transition to pro football a little easier. He told AtlantaFalcons.com that the install they're working on in rookie minicamp is similar to what they did for the Senior Bowl.
Southward's competitive streak and work ethic are also positives. He was devastated about being held out of the Combine, but certainly didn't let it impact his pro day performance. Since arriving in Atlanta, Southward has been watching film of Earl Thomas and Eric Berry and picking William Moore's brain to get a better feel for playing the safety position in the NFL.
Thomas Dimitroff was obviously impressed with the talent of the rookie safety, citing his athleticism and size.
"This is a guy who is big and fast, really good natural agility and movement for a bigger safety." - Thomas Dimitroff on Dezmen Southward
Southward is pretty inexperienced compared to other draftees. His first season of organized football was his senior year of high school. Now, it says a lot about his raw athleticism that one year of organized football would lead to him committing to a major college program, but the fact remains that he'll need some development to play the position at the pro level. Because of his limited experience with the game, his instincts and timing are still developing.
Southward only had two career interceptions and 11 pass deflections at Wisconsin over the course of 53 games. To say he's not known for being a ballhawk is a bit of an understatement. As a matter of fact, Wisconsin fans aren't terribly impressed with him. Andrew Rosin at Bucky's Fifth Quarter, SB Nation's Wisconsin blog, called Southward "sushi-raw."Ouch.
Some fans are also concerned because Southward was not permitted to compete in the Combine due to injury concerns. Specifically, a physician believed he identified a cervical spine fracture in Southward's C-5 vertebrae. Southward sent his x-rays to other physicians and was cleared by Dr. Bob Watkins, the surgeon who performed Peyton Manning's successful neck surgery.
The More You Know
Southward was definitely not expecting to be drafted until day three of the 2014 NFL Draft if he was drafted at all. He never met with any teams privately prior to the draft, and had no idea Atlanta was interested in him until he received the call about 15 minutes before the pick. Southward had to throw together an impromptu draft party to celebrate the happy, but unexpected, occasion.
Most people see Southward as a developmental prospect, and it's easy to understand why. He is probably prepared to be a key special teams player right away, but in terms of being a starting free safety in 2014, it's a stretch to believe he'll be ready--and you would generally expect a third-round choice to be NFL-ready, and not just on special teams. Southward still has a great deal to learn, but his upside and potential are considerable, and Atlanta's coaching staff has had the chance to work with Southward at the Senior Bowl. They obviously have a good feel for his potential to be coached into a quality starting safety. It's just a question of when that will actually be.
Check out some Southward highlights on ESPN.com.
What do you think of this pick?