Purdue’s George Karlaftis is one of the scariest prospects in this year’s draft. His power and tenacity will make him a pest for an opposing offensive line. After exploding onto the scene as a freshman, Karlaftis had some injuries in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. While his stats didn’t jump off the page in 2021, he was a one-man defense for the Boilermakers. His ability to open things up for his teammates all while making impact plays himself will make him a hot commodity for many teams in the top half of the first round.
I’ve been watching college football for a long time and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an edger rusher play with as much power as Karlaftis does. He turns into a human wrecking ball and bullies offensive linemen who often have 20-30 pounds on him. His best move is a bull rush, but it often results in putting pressure on the quarterback rather than actually getting the sack. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s as successful when going against presumably stronger tackles in the NFL, but everything I’ve seen makes me believe it’ll be an easy transition.
You might not believe that Karlaftis is great at finishing plays when looking at his pedestrian sack totals the last two years, but he’s a brick wall in the run game. People often associate edge rushers with their ability to get to the quarterback, but they still have to be able to defend the run. Karlaftis sets the edge well but also can escape blocks to make plays in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. A true three-down lineman, Karlaftis will be a tone-setter for whichever defense is lucky enough to have him.
Despite being such a powerful player, Karlaftis is a very good athlete. He is nimble enough to dip inside or juke an offensive lineman to get into the backfield. Because of this, he can line up inside at defensive tackle if needed. Eventually, he could see his role change and become more of a 3-4 defensive lineman due to his power and speed combination. This kind of versatility makes him attractive not only in the short term but also when you project his career when he gets a second contract. Expect Karlaftis to be a starter in this league for many years.
Separating From Linemen
Karlaftis is a very good athlete but too often couldn’t separate from an offensive lineman. It’s not a lack of pass rush moves or explosiveness and to be honest, I’m not totally sure why he has this problem. It could be that he just needs to continue to work on some of his speed moves or continue to get stronger and start rushing from the interior. Against quicker and stronger NFL linemen, he’ll need to continue to improve or be labeled as a tweener who never lived up to his potential.
Not Always Smooth
Granted it’s tough for 275 pound NFL players to be smooth, but it’s something I’d like to see in a possible top-ten pick. I’m not saying Karlaftis needs to be Baryshnikov with pads, but his footwork in tight spaces has room for improvement.
Karlaftis is a stud. There’s really no other way to put it. He may not have put up the stats you’d like the see, but his impact on the game is evident. I think he eventually starts as an edge in a 4-3 defense but eventually gets bigger to the point where he’s a 3-4 end. This type of versatility is great for the long-term prognosis for Karlaftis. He’s not going to put up the sack totals of Thibodeaux or Hutchinson, but he won’t be far off. His ceiling is likely fifth or sixth overall and I’d be surprised if he slips out of the top ten.