The 2014 NFL Draft is just under a month away, which means it's time to take a look at the former Badger football players who are hoping to hear their names called sometime between May 8 and 10.
So far I've profiled Chris Borland, Jared Abbrederis, Ryan Groy and James White. Today I'll profile Dezmen Southward, who is looking to overcome a speed bump at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine and make his mark in the NFL.
Southward re-established himself as a draft-worthy prospect with a strong performance at Wisconsin's pro day on March 5. His size and speed combination makes him an intriguing late-round option for teams, especially now that he seems to have overcome pre-combine injuries to his wrist and back.
Southward is a latecomer to football. He didn't start playing the game until his senior season at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, and mostly played basketball before that. But the Badgers offered him a scholarship as a defensive back despite his experience, and they got four year's worth of playing time out of him.
Southward started at safety in each of his final 27 games with the Badgers, and played in each of the 54 total games he was eligible for during his career. He was a consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention in both 2012 and 2013.
Final stat line: 54 games played, 27 games started, 152 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 13 passes defensed, 2 interceptions.
Pro Day Measurables
Weight: 211 pounds
225 Lb. Bench Reps: Did not attempt
Arm Length: 30.62 inches
Hands: 10 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.38 seconds
Vertical Jump: 42.0 inches
You always have to take Pro Day stats with a grain of salt, particularly a prospect's 40-yard dash time. But Southward's workout was undeniably impressive, and it reinforces his overall athleticism. That's one of the reasons why the Badgers offered him a scholarship in high school, and it's probably going to be one of the big reasons why a team would take him. Southward was also pretty durable during his college career. He was also a versatile player for the Badgers, and has experience playing as a hybrid safety, as a third cornerback, and on special teams.
Southward has only been playing football for five years, and it shows sometimes on the field. He's still learning the nuances of his position, and he was more of a solid tackler than a ball-hawk in college. He's definitely more of an NFL project than other safeties who will be drafted in early May.
Three Potential Landing Spots
Southwards has met with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints- all of whom could use extra safety depth.
John's final take:
Southward has the physical tools to at least contribute in some capacity at the next level. I don't know whether that will be as a backup safety or as a special teams player, but his athleticism has to at least tempt some safety-needy teams. The last few rounds of the draft are designed for players like Southward- drafting him is a low risk move, but if he capitalizes on his potential he could pay back the investment.
The Jets could definitely use some help at safety- signing Ed Reed didn't pay off last year. Southward's versatility could help them too, since he has some experience playing as a cornerback. Pro Football Focus ranked four of their five defensive backs as below average starters last year.
Sixth round to the New York Jets, No. 213 overall.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.