It’s not hard to understand why the Kansas City Chiefs moved up to the 21st pick in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft to take Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie. Speaking to reporters after Round 1 concluded, general manager Brett Veach said that McDuffie was one of the players that the team had graded as a first-round pick — and before the draft, he had made it plain that if such a player fell into a range the team could trade into, he would make the move.
But at first, the selection of Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis with the team’s 30th pick was a little harder to see. When given the opportunity, Veach declined to say Karlaftis was among the players with first-round grades. Still, according to our consensus draft prospect rankings, he was the top EDGE prospect then available — and the most highly-ranked player at any of the team’s main positions of need.
It may be a mistake, however, to simply put the former Boilermaker’s selection down to simply being the best player available at that moment.
“He has a relentless motor,” said head coach Andy Reid on Thursday night. “He is fun to watch. And even though some people criticized him on TV, he sure is a nice player. He does a great job pass rushing [and] does great against the run game. He’s strong. He knows how to play the game. He’s got a great feel for things.”
“Young, relentless, dedicated to his craft,” said Veach. “All the people that we spoke to at Purdue just said all of his best football is in front of him. He had a water polo background, being born in Athens [Greece]. Getting to come over here with a late start to football, he picked it up quick.”
“Looking back on it, it’s pretty crazy to think about,” noted Karlaftis, whom Reid dubbed “Greek Freak II” on Thursday night. “I feel like — more generally speaking — I’ve always excelled in sports to a certain extent. Football sort of came natural to me after I had a full year under my belt. I surely fell in love with it.”
Karlaftis said that he loves everything about the sport — even the offseason.
“I like the mental and physical challenge and strain and the chess game. I like [that] every single play is a single challenge, you know — both presnap, after the ball [is snapped and] during the play — whether it’s executing your assignment, making the play, doing the right thing, having the perfect technique and having to do that over and over again and being perfect.
“That challenge drives me. You do a sport that’s competitive over and over and over again, eventually, you get a pretty good rhythm going — and [in football], you have a different stimulus every single time and a different challenge [on] every single play. That’s what I love about it.”
But for Karlaftis, it doesn’t end there.
“On top of everything else, you love the locker room, right? You love the connection and the bond you make with the teammates — and everything that comes with that.”
In essence, Karlaftis sounded exactly like many of the players who have come to Kansas City — and have become successful — during Reid’s tenure.
“These were easier picks for us,” said Veach of the team’s two first-round selections, “because when you get talent plus work ethic and character like that, those guys rarely fail. These guys? Their profiles are like Creed Humphrey and Nick Bolton: good players [who] do things the right way. They’re hard to pass up on.”
Still, Reid said for both players, their own-field performance was the first thing that mattered.
“Their play is first,” he declared. “Then they’re sharp guys, and they’re good people. That combination of those three things? You can have some success with that.”
And while it is clear that Karlaftis — as a first-round pick — is almost assured of being a starter when the season opens in September, he’s taking nothing for granted.
“Obviously, I’m going to start off as the lowest man on the totem pole and work my way up. I’m going to earn my stripes and work as hard as I possibly can. [This] is a room with a lot of veterans — and I’m going to try to do everything I can to help the team win.”
Karlaftis described himself — and what he brings to the team — with the same word that Reid and Veach had already used: relentless.
“I get after the quarterback,” he said. “I stop the run. I feel like I’m a three‐down player, I’m an all‐around player that can do anything (and everything) that’s asked of him. So I think I bring that to the table. I feel like I’m very, very consistent. I feel like my best football is ahead of me.
“Those are the attributes of my game that I think the Chiefs were most excited about. I’ve been only playing football for about six to seven years now, so I’m really excited to develop under a great system [with] great teammates [in a] great organization.
“I couldn’t have asked to be in a better situation.”
And right now, it looks like he’s going to fit right in.