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Hoge’s NFL Draft Notebook: The Crazy Story Of A Healthy Player Failing An NFL Combine Physical

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Dezman Southward. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Dezman Southward. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

By Adam Hoge-

MADISON, Wis. (CBS) — Like most prospects, Dezmen Southward woke up on the morning of his NFL Scouting Combine workout excited to show coaches, scouts and general managers why they should select him in May’s NFL Draft.

But he didn’t get that chance.

Just hours before he was supposed to run at the Combine, the defensive back out of Wisconsin received a text from a Combine official informing him that he had failed his physical and wasn’t medically cleared to go out on the field.

“It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,” Southward said Wednesday at Wisconsin’s pro day.

Not just frustrating, but downright scary.

Southward was informed he had a fracture of the C5 vertebrae — also known as a broken neck.

Confused and heartbroken, Southward said he balled his eyes out.

“I’ve never injured my neck before in my career,” he said. “I think I would know if I fractured my vertebrae.”

Well, it turns out he didn’t fracture his vertebrae. Southward sent his X-rays to Dr. Robert Watkins — the same doctor who worked on Peyton Manning’s neck — who determined that there was nothing wrong with the C5 vertebrae.

“He told me there’s no fracture, especially not in the C5 — if anything, there’s a slight herniation in the C4,” Southward said. “Wasn’t very much of anything, and he definitely told me I should have been out there running, which really angered me.”

Players typically meet with every team doctor at the Combine — it’s hard to imagine a more thorough physical — so it’s likely that Southward wasn’t failed by every team, but somehow it got relayed to Combine officials that he shouldn’t work out that day.

“They never told me who exactly ruled me out,” Southward said. “Was it the Combine? Was it the team doctors? I’m honestly not sure about that.”

And it looks like NFL teams missed one hell of a show.

Dr. Watkins’ diagnosis was enough to clear Southward for Wisconsin’s pro day on Wednesday, where he ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, logged a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump and maxed out the vertical jump at 42 inches.

It didn’t go any higher than that.

“I know I could have gone higher,” he said. “Maybe an inch or two. But 42, hey, I’ll take it. It’s definitely a number that’s out there, not many guys will reach that number. At the end of the day, it shows I’m really explosive. Shows that I can go out there and jump, explode, get out of my hips and that’s the most important thing.”

Southward still has a ways to go before he starts climbing up draft boards — he likely projects as a late-round pick or priority free agent right now — but the NFL scouts who braved the Wisconsin snow Wednesday had to be impressed. Southward played safety at Wisconsin, but he worked out at both safety and cornerback at the Senior Bowl. At 6-0 1/2, 212 pounds, he could project as the larger-type cornerback teams are craving these days.

And he vows to make sure everyone knows there are no red flags with his health.

“Every team will get that report,” he said.

Notes

- Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland didn’t have the immediate timing numbers from his 40-yard dash Wednesday but said he improved on his performance from the Combine, which he wasn’t happy with. He ran a 4.83 in Indianapolis and, for what it’s worth, I clocked him at 4.73 on Wednesday. He also posted a 35-inch vertical, four inches higher than at the Combine and a 6.75 in the three-cone drill, an improvement from 7.18. Overall, it was a good day for the inside linebacker who could go as high as the second round.

- While Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continued to impress at Northwestern’s pro day on Tuesday, a couple of sleeper wide receivers looked good, too. Both Northwestern’s Rashad Lawrence and Eastern Illinois’ Erik Lora impressed during wide receiver drills, and Lawrence ran a sub-4.5 40. I’m not sure either will be drafted, but both should find an NFL camp this summer.

- You kind of had to feel bad for Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner who threw alongside Garoppolo on Tuesday at Northwestern. While Garoppolo was slinging 50-yard passes on the money with ease, Faulkner was all over the place and even hit a curtain hanging down from the wall at one point. That’s a tough position to put the kid in. He needs a pro day, but he didn’t have much of a chance next to Garoppolo.

- They could have used Faulkner in Madison on Wednesday, however. With no NFL quarterback prospects at Wisconsin’s pro day, a scout from the Oakland Raiders had to throw to receivers and tight ends. Badgers quarterback Joel Stave was in attendance watching, but the NCAA doesn’t allow college players to participate in pro days. In his defense, the Raiders scout had a nice arm and was adequate enough as wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, tight end Jacob Pedersen and running James White looked crisp running routes. All three of those guys should have their name called in May.

- A sleeper defensive tackle to keep an eye on is Beau Allen, who somewhat surprisingly didn’t get invited to the Combine. He has experience as both a nose guard in a 3-4 and as a 1-tech, 3-tech and “shade” (2i-tech) in a 4-3, as Wisconsin ran both schemes during his college career. Allen had a good day in posting an 8-foot, 8-inch broad jump and 31-inch vertical. He could be a late-round pick.

- It was hard to see Northwestern defensive tackle Will Hampton pull up limping during his 40 on Tuesday. Truth be told, he’s a longshot to make it at the next level, but that’s exactly what these pro days are for, and the players train hard for them. Hampton told me it was a quad injury, and he hopes he can come back and work out at Kain Colter’s pro day on April 16.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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