Alabama is known for its defense.
The Crimson Tide have leaned on Nick Saban's defense en route to winning three national championships in the last five years, and that success has led to Alabama defenders getting plucked by NFL teams early in the draft.
Dominating the college game, however, hasn't translated to the NFL for many of those players. And ESPN's draft expert Mel Kiper thinks teams should be leery about taking Alabama defenders early in this year's draft.
"Alabama defensive players in general have struggled in the NFL," Kiper said during a recent conference call. "It's not just one or two – it's a pretty good list of names you can throw out there of guys that have not gotten it done on the defensive side of the ball."
NFL teams have drafted seven Alabama defenders in the first round since 2010, and they have earned just one combined Pro Bowl selection. Kiper pointed out that several of those players – linebacker Rolando McClain, Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson and Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron – have failed to live up to lofty expectations.
"There is a concern about that, and it probably is because they're coached up so well, they're in a great system, they all complement each other, they come into the league thinking they are as close as they can be," Kiper said. "Basically they've hit their ceiling, they're as good as they're going to get. There's not that upside that you see with some other guys."
The Ravens haven't picked any Alabama defenders in the first round, but General Manager Ozzie Newsome has used second-round picks on players from his alma mater in two of the last four years. He drafted outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the No. 35 overall pick in 2012 and defensive tackle Terrence Cody with the No. 57 pick.
Upshaw has been a reliable starter the last two seasons, but Cody has been hindered by injuries and struggled to develop into the block-eating run stuffer that he was in college. Upshaw has played in every game the last two seasons, and last year he had 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Cody played in 12 games last year and registered 15 tackles.
The Ravens could again be in the market for Alabama defenders this year, as they have been linked to safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley as options for their first-round pick. The Ravens want to add players at both spots, and those two prospects are considered the best at their positions.
Kiper thinks the struggles of their predecessors could affect the way teams grade Clinton-Dix and Mosley.
"Maybe that's a factor, but it is something you have to look at," Kiper said. "There is a host of players out of the Alabama defense that have come in as high draft choices and have frankly been major disappointments."