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Thursday July 2nd, 2015 8:31AM

Falcons add safety Southward in third round of NFL draft

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Atlanta Falcons have selected Wisconsin safety Dez Southward in the third round of the NFL draft.

Southward, a full-time starter in 2012-13, was medically excluded from participating in the NFL combine two months ago because of wrist and spine injuries.

The fourth pick of the third round Friday, and 68th overall, Southward joins offensive tackle Jake Matthews, the No. 6 overall selection, and second-rounder Ra'Shede Hageman, a defensive end from Minnesota in Atlanta's draft class.

The Falcons are revamping the free safety position after five-year starter Thomas DeCoud was released in March.

Dwight Lowery, signed last month as a free agent, and Kemal Ishmael, a seventh-round draft pick last year, are the other free safeties listed on Atlanta's roster.

NOTE: BELOW IS THE STORY FROM THE FALCONS' SECOND ROUND DRAFT PICK

FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Atlanta Falcons bolstered their pass rush by picking Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday.

Hageman, the fifth pick of the second round, joins a defense that ranked last in third-down efficiency, second-worst against the run and third-fewest in sacks.

The Falcons are listing Hageman at defensive end even though he started his last 26 games at nose tackle for the Gophers.

"I won't say I'm ready yet, but I'll take on that challenge," Hageman said on a conference call Friday night. "Obviously with the good coaching staff they have, I feel like I'm in good hands. I'm just looking forward to it."

Coming off a 4-12 season that was their first losing record in six years under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons vowed to get tougher on both lines.

They drafted offensive tackle Jake Matthews No. 6 overall on Thursday and signed defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai in free agency. Starting defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters were re-signed.

Atlanta's defense was hampered last year by injuries to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive end Kroy Biermann. Free safety Thomas DeCoud underperformed and was released.

Hageman finished 2013 with a career-high 13 tackles for minus-50 yards. The 6-foot, 310-pounder takes as much pride in his vertical jump - 35 1/2 inches - as he does in his ability to pressure the quarterback.

"My junior year, I definitely got more sacks, and last year I had to find another way of making plays," Hageman said. "It's just the same as getting sacks, so I'm definitely going to use my vertical as an advantage to swat down balls."

Atlanta's defense was hampered last year by injuries to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive end Kroy Biermann. Free safety Thomas DeCoud underperformed and was released.
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