The first head-scratcher of the weekend for the Falcons, not so much for why they’d want Southward, but rather because many draft pundits felt like it was a reach for the 3rd round. That said, Southward is an extremely durable, hard-hitting safety with tackling skills and versatility. No player has ever played in more games for the Wisconsin Badgers. a testament to his knack for staying healthy despite an all-out style of play.
The 6-0, 206 Southward began his career as a CB and can still play the position a little, though he’s better suited as a safety, where he can cover tight ends and diagnose run plays. A wrap-up tackler who flies to the ball, Southward displays good instincts on the tape I’ve watched.
Southward has blazing speed (sub 4.50) and supreme athleticism, registering an impressive 42 ” vertical at his Pro Day. Those figures are probably what bumped him up, in the Falcons’ minds, from the 4th round prospect many saw into the early 3rd round pick he became. He isn’t a day one defensive starter, but the upside is there for Southward to grow into a starter.
Bottom line: The Falcons get an athletic but raw safety with a nose for the ball and a history of improvement each season. He likely could have been available later, so it isn’t a great value pick, but it’s a guy the Falcons clearly wanted who was trending up in after wowing scouts at his Pro Day. It remains to be seen if Southward can contribute to the defense on an NFL field, but his tackling ability and speed suggests he’ll be an immediate contributor in possibly all facets of special teams, where he could be an unheralded star.
Projected 2014 role: Special teams, nickel S
Projected longterm role: Rotational S / Low-end starting S / ST ace
What it means for the 2014 Falcons: A special teams playmaker is likely all it means this year. While he could see some time on the field for the defense, I wouldn’t expect Southward to unseat Dwight Lowery as the starter at FS.