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Chiefs Draft Profile: Would George Karlaftis make an impact in KC?

Setting expectations for a potential Chiefs pick at EDGE

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / USA TODAY NETWORK

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).


It’s no secret that the Kansas City Chiefs, who were near the bottom of the league in sacks last year, need to invest in the EDGE position early and often in this week’s draft. The need was significant before free agency, and it’s borderline desperate now that there haven’t been any veteran additions to the position.

This draft has several intriguing prospects that can help a team like the Chiefs— but they can also help at least a dozen teams that pick before Kansas City in the first round. There is almost zero chance that any top-tier pass rushers will fall to pick 29. So, the options will be to trade up or start looking at the second-tier guys and see if we can squint hard enough to see the potential for an impact EDGE player.

One of the more prominent names in college football over the last couple of seasons happens to fall in that range. Whether he’s available at 29 or the Chiefs trade up for him, he could be a guy they target in this draft.

It’s time we get to know George Karlaftis:

Background

Yoros Matthew “George” Karlaftis grew up in Athens, Greece as a multi-sport athlete (swimming, soccer, tennis, basketball, task, judo, water polo), but football wasn’t one of them until 2014, per ESPN. His father's death led to a move to West Lafayette, Indiana, and the start of a football career that could make him a first-round draft pick this week.

Karlaftis worked his way into a highly sought-after recruit but chose Purdue to stay close to his mother and siblings. He made a splash in his first season there (2019), leading the team in sacks with 7.5 and tackles for loss with 17.5. Karlaftis showed a unique level of dedication and focus on film, diet, workouts and technique — all the big and small things that go into building an NFL defensive lineman.

2020 was a lost season due to COVID and injury, but Karlaftis came back bigger and stronger in 2021 and started every game. His production dipped—5 sacks, 11 12 TFL— but many attributed that to facing frequent double teams.

Karlaftis tested very well at the combine, measuring at 6’3”, 266lbs with a 38 in vertical, 10’ broad jump and a 4.78 40 yard dash.

College film evaluation

(Games studied: 2019 Minnesota, 2019 TCU, 2021 Ohio State, 2021 Iowa, 2021 Northwestern)

Karlaftis is a good athlete and a technician, but whether that shows on tape depends on a few factors.

One factor is whether you’re watching him in 2019 or 2021. As a freshman, he was a high-energy player who flew around with reckless abandon. He looked lean and fast, with the ability to close and finish, but he may not have known exactly what he was supposed to be doing. In 2021, he was more of a controlled player who won with strength and technique, but he doesn’t have any bend or burst and could be stymied at the line of scrimmage.

Another factor is the specific game and opponent you watch. If all you watch is Karlaftis against Iowa in 2021, you might see a potentially dominant player against some NFL-quality offensive linemen. Karlaftis had 10 pressures and a sack against the No. 2 ranked Hawkeyes.

If all you watch is Karlaftis against Ohio State in 2021, I can almost guarantee you aren’t interested in seeing him on your NFL football team. That game was “teaching tape” for an offensive line on handling a defensive front. Karlaftis not only was handled by double teams but often one-on-one against the big Buckeye tackles, a fullback and even tight end and 2022 draft prospect Jeremy Ruckert. Purdue and Karlaftis looked outmatched as OSU put up 263 yards and three touchdowns on the ground plus 361 and five touchdowns in the air.

Looking at some clips below, you can first see Karlaftis displaying good pass rush technique as he swipes the tackle’s hands down and continues his arc to the quarterback.

By the way, another factor affecting your view of Karlaftis might be where he lines up. When he’s standing up, aligned very wide, he shows the ability to get home on his pass rush reps. When aligned in more of a traditional EDGE role — or sliding inside — he was much less effective.

To my eye, the below is both a good and a frustrating rep. Karlaftis quickly discards the blocker and gets right in the quarterback’s face. But then you see a little bit of hesitation or a wasted step, along with a lack of the burst that would allow him to turn pressures into quarterback hits and sacks.

The first move that every pass rusher learns is the bull rush, and the rest of their toolkit is built on that foundation. Karlaftis is relatively early in his development, so it could just be that he hasn’t refined the rest of his game yet. But he can certainly drive a tackle back into the quarterback's lap when his bullrush is on.

The one thing you’ll consistently hear from evaluators talking about Karlaftis is effort. Because he lacks elite burst and bend, he doesn’t get many quick sacks unless he’s unblocked. But he does play with a consistent effort from whistle to whistle, down after down. That effort pays off when other defenders re-route quarterbacks and running backs back into his grasp.

Karlaftis is a very sound tackler— he wraps up and brings guys to the ground. His form is solid, and he doesn’t miss. He’s also a big hitter. When he gets loose, he’ll lay the wood.

Karlaftis displays good technical ability for the position. He uses his hands well, sets a strong edge and appears to be very sound in his assignments. He’s consistent, gets pressure and gets his hands up when he can’t get to the quarterback. I noticed a blocked field goal and a couple of deflected passes in watching Karlaftis on film.

I wasn’t blown away by his ability to recognize screens or misdirection. There were a couple of plays against Ohio State where he was left unblocked and ran upfield while the back ran to the spot he vacated. He also doesn’t appear to be the type of EDGE that can effectively chase a play across the formation or close on a ball carrier outside of the tackles.

But for me, the genuine concern was watching collegiate blockers get the best of Karlaftis on a far too regular basis. As mentioned before, this issue was most apparent against Ohio State, where he couldn’t impact the game at all. While we can’t expect any pass rusher to win every rep, there were entire games where Karlaftis ran into blockers and was stopped in his tracks.

How he fits with the Chiefs

There is something about Karlaftis that screams Chiefs and Steve Spagnuolo. He’s tough, smart, sets a good edge and knows how to use his hands. Karlaftis isn’t often out of position and brings the same high level of effort on every play. He’s known as a high-character guy who is dedicated to his craft. He looks like he might even be able to slide to the inside at times, as he’s pretty comfortable with his hand in the dirt, taking on blockers.

The Chiefs have minimal assets at the EDGE positions right now. Frank Clark is the only real established starter, but he has been disappointing given the team’s investment in him. Clark is a powerful and technically sound player who has long stretches where you don’t notice him on the field. Behind Clark is Mike Danna, who is solid against the run but doesn’t have much upside as a pass rusher. The results from Karlaftis quite possibly would be more of the same that the Chiefs get from Danna and Clark. Karlaftis could be seen as a future replacement for Clark and/or a solid strong-side defensive end. But he doesn’t currently look like the No. 1 EDGE that can be a difference-maker for this defense.

The bottom line

What do you expect from the Chiefs' first picks in this draft? A day one starter that can eat up snaps and won’t be a bust, or an impact player that makes a few game-changing plays each week? Remember, they pick late in the first round, so the “surefire Pro Bowl players” are probably long gone.

If Karlaftis is the pick for the Chiefs at 29 or 30, we’ll need to temper our expectations. Not much of what I saw on film was particularly explosive or flashy. He doesn’t have the bend or the burst of the other top EDGE prospects. He doesn’t look like an eight-to-ten-sacks-per-year player in the NFL, much less a double-digit-sacks guy. He seems like a solid starting EDGE that will get some pressure on the quarterback and will play sound run defense without missing tackles, but may average something like four to six sacks per season.

Karlaftis has been described as a “high-floor, low-ceiling” player, and you can see why. He’s got the work ethic that coaches will love and may have some room to develop, so it’s hard to imagine him being a complete “bust.” But I could also see him as a player that gets swallowed up by NFL blockers and doesn’t impact games. Will he justify a top-50 draft pick? It depends on what your expectations are.