Sticking up for Alabama players doesn't come easy to Joe Hortiz.
The Ravens Director of College scouting is an Auburn alum and hasn't forgotten the intense rivalry between the two college football powerhouses.
But Hortiz jumped at the opportunity to defend the Crimson Tide during Wednesday's pre-draft press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"Can I say something about the Alabama guys? They've been getting beat up a lot," Hortiz interjected when a reporter brought up injury concerns of an Alabama prospect.
"These guys may fail physicals or be question marks, but they're tough players and they play through injuries."
Alabama prospects have come under recent scrutiny in the media, specifically by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper. He cautioned against drafting Alabama defenders in the first round because they have not had a strong recent track record of success in recent years.
NFL teams have drafted seven Alabama defenders in the first round since 2010, and they have gone on to earn just one Pro Bowl selection.
Hortiz stressed that writing off Alabama players is misguided, and that they bring a level of toughness that NFL teams want.
"These Alabama guys that get beat up, they play through it," Hortiz said. "Courtney Upshaw had a bad shoulder and he's a rugged, rough guy. I hate to hear the Alabama guys get beat up so bad – and I'm an Auburn guy – because all they do is play through pain. They have such a mental and physical toughness, and then they get in the NFL and they do the same thing."
Hortiz pointed to Green Bay's second-round pick last season, running back Eddie Lacy, as a prime example of an Alabama prospect getting downgraded after playing through pain in college. Lacy had injury concerns entering the draft and ended up sliding to the second round, but he was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Ravens have a connection with Alabama, specifically because General Manager Ozzie Newsome is an alum and has a good relationship with Head Coach Nick Saban. Newsome's son is also a member of the football team.
Newsome has drafted Alabama players in the past – he took Upshaw with the team's top pick (second round) in 2012 and nose tackle Terrance Cody in the second round of 2010 – but he emphasized that the Ravens "grade the player" rather than focusing on the school he attends.
"Do I have intimate knowledge of what goes on at the university? Yes I do," Newsome said. "My son is still there playing. What we do is we just grade the players. … Even though I do have intimate knowledge about the program there, I try to not let that proceed actually watching the tape."