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D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons sign third-round pick Southward

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FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons signed safety Dezmen Southward, their third-round draft pick, to a four-year contract today.

Now, the team has signed all of their draft picks.

The Falcons also signed free agent kicker Sergio Castillo, who was a four-time All-Lonestar Conference selection at West Texas A&M.

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Falcons rookie safely Dezmen Southward warms up during the first day of minicamp for rookies Friday, May 16, 2014 at the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

In part because he has a huge upside, Southward was selected 68th overall in the third round by the Falcons. He was the fifth safety taken, with the first four going in the first round.

Louisville’s Calvin Pryor went 17th to the New York Jets, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 21st to the Packers, Washington State’s Deone Bucannon 27th to the Cardinals and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward 30th to the 49ers. There was speculation that the Falcons wanted to trade for another pick in the first round to take Ward, but the team said that was not true.

Southward redshirted in 2009. Over the next two seasons, he starred on special teams and made two games. He starting the final 27 games of his career.

He finished with 152 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. He was named all-Big Ten honorable mention as a junior and senior.

Southward, 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, was invited to the NFL Combine, but wasn’t able to participate after doctors found cervical spine and wrist issues.

“Basically, what happened was, one team flagged me and said that they wanted to see my neck again,” Southward said. “They wanted to check out my neck and that basically red-flagged me for the combine, which I wasn’t able to do.

“But it did end up working out for me. I did see Dr. Bob Watkins out in (Los Angeles), and he cleared me.”

The Falcons’ coaching staff led the South team in the Senior Bowl, and Southward was on their roster. He was considered the second-best safety on the South team behind Bucannon. He had no idea the Falcons were interested.

“I’m not sure exactly how the interest came,” Southward said. “I’m sure playing at the Senior Bowl definitely had something to do with it. But heading up to the draft, I had no idea the Falcons had an interest in me. I never had a team visit or any calls or anything. On draft day, about 15 minutes before the pick, they called me, and I’m excited to be here.”

Southward knows that the Falcons have a vacancy at free safety after releasing Thomas DeCoud. They also signed veteran Dwight Lowery, who has started 41 games in the NFL.

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