Just about halfway through the NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs are in a great spot. They sit atop the AFC West and are tied for first place in the AFC standings.
While the team solidifies its place among the league’s Super Bowl contenders, there is one player who is still figuring out his place in the league: Kansas City’s rookie defensive end George Karlaftis.
Karlaftis has been a solid addition to the team’s defensive line. The 30th overall pick out of Purdue has started all eight of the team’s games, totaling 16 tackles and 0.5 sacks. For most defensive linemen, development is usually a lengthy process. Karlaftis knows this — and is keeping his focus on gradual improvement.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better every game,” Karlaftis told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s what it’s been like for me: just try to improve every single thing. For me, it’s like making my layups. At certain times, I get opportunities to maybe make a sack or big play and help the team out. Sometimes I make them, sometimes I don’t. But at the end of the day, it’s just about getting better. It’s a marathon — not a sprint. So it’s just about getting better — every day, every practice and every game.”
Although the traditional counting stats may look underwhelming, the advanced stats paint a different picture of the rookie’s impact on the field. According to Pro Football Reference, the Chiefs rank fourth in the NFL with 89 quarterback pressures and a pressure rate of 26.1%. Karlaftis is tied for third on the team (with defensive end Carlos Dunlap) at 11 pressures, trailing only Frank Clark (12) and Chris Jones (21).
Karlaftis said that veteran Kansas City players like Clark and defensive tackle Khalen Saunders have had an influence on him.
“It was awesome to have Frank back,” said Karlaftis said after Clark returned to the team facility on Wednesday (The veteran’s two-game suspension will still keep him off the field for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars). “The room’s not the same without him, the team’s not the same without him. For me, Frank helps me out a lot — teaches me a lot about the game and stuff. It’s been great to have him back.
“Khalen is a ball of energy, man. I mean, he’s awesome; he’s a great presence. Within the d-line room, he’s not the loudest guy or anything like that, but he’s very knowledgeable — and he’s a great guy outside of just being a great leader and a great teammate. He’s just someone great to talk to and just talk about stuff outside of football with. He’s an awesome dude — and a great high-school running back.”
Along with raw talent, one of the best indicators for NFL success is coachability. The 21-year-old Karlaftis talks like a player on whom his coaches — like defensive line coach Joe Cullen — are having a strong impact.
“Coach is great,” Karlaftis said. “He coaches me really hard — and coaches the room really hard. He asks us, ‘How hard can [you] play?’ and he forces that out of us every single day. He coaches us really hard and expects a lot — demands a lot — out of us.
“It’s great to have him as a coach. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”