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MADISON - Two former Wisconsin football players heard their name called during the third round of the 2014 NFL draft, although the first name called was arguably the big surprise.
Safety Dezmen Southward, who didn't play organized football until his senior year in high school, was taken by the Atlanta Falcons with the fourth pick in the third round, the 68th overall pick Friday night.
"I'm excited, I really can't put it into words right now," Southward said during a conference call. "It still hasn't quite hit me yet. I'm excited I can't wait to get down there and can't wait to get some work done."
"I think San Francisco's got a proven coaching staff and a bunch of proven players on defense," Borland said during another conference call. "I'm just going to find my role and play whatever that is."
The first Badgers defensive player to be selected in the NFL Draft since J.J. Watt in 2011 and the 22nd Wisconsin defensive back taken in the draft, Southward was projected to be a third-day pick at best, but massively boosted his stock during Wisconsin's pro day when he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash and registered a 42 on the vertical jump. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine.
Southward, who played one year of organized football at Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas, started his final 27 at UW in 2012 and last season. He finished with 152 tackles (11½ for loss), four forced fumbles and two interceptions at UW.
Southward has the versatility to play safety or corner for the Falcons choose to line him up at the nickel but he'll need to improve in coverage as he was consistently beat last year after Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen put Southward on slot coverage last season.
"I was kind of thrown in the fire there, but I was asked to be the third corner basically," said Southward, who joins former Badgers offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and Peter Konz in Atlanta. "We had two at the time that our guys trusted and wanted to be on the field. I was asked to do that and I did it about 80-85 percent of the game. It was something that I was glad I was able to add to my repertoire and understand I have to continue to get better at that, but it shows my versatility."
The first Badger the 49ers have drafted since Brandon Williams who they took in the third round in 2006, Borland was a top three inside linebacker prospect and was expected to be a second-round pick but some teams had concerns over his previous shoulder injuries and surgeries. When he is fully healthy, Borland can help create havoc thanks to the talented defensive line that's in front of him.
Registering 420 tackles, 50 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in 55 career games, Borland needed to go to a team that can create space where he can make plays because he doesn't have lightning-quick speed. Even though Borland may not have ideal NFL measurable (5-foot-11 ½), you can't measure his heart and work ethic. Thanks to his football IQ and instincts he'll be able to continue to be a productive player.
Wisconsin has had at least one player selected in each of the last 36 NFL drafts and players like tight end Jacob Pedersen, offensive lineman Ryan Groy, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and others are expected to join the list Saturday.