29 Mar From Athens, Greece to West Lafayette, Karlaftis on Brink of College Football Elite
Defensive End | Purdue
A Top 100 recruit coming out of West Lafayette High School in Indiana, according to every recruiting platform, Defensive End George Karlaftis III sat as one of the most decorated recruits across the high school landscape. Equally impressive considering he was somewhat a latecomer to the game after moving to West Fayette from Athens, Greece during his eighth-grade year.
Through maturation, Karlaftis continued to fill out his body, developing into a dynamic football player on the high school level. Ending his West Lafayette career with a bang in 2018, he led the unit to an undefeated 2018 season, rolling to a 15-0 overall record and Class 3A state championship. The talented defender ended his senior season with 106 total tackles, 56 tackles for loss, and 17.5 sacks, concluding with an Associated Press All-State selection, Indiana Class 3A Player of the Year, and a National Defensive Player of the Year honor. He would finish his West Lafayette career with 332 total tackles, including 84 tackles for loss and 41 sacks to his credit. Karlaftis capped off his standout career participating in the 2019 U.S. Army All-American Game. A consensus four-star recruit, he made his recruitment decision during October of his junior season, opting to play for the home state (and hometown) Purdue Boilermakers.
“(Purdue) did the best job getting me here,” Karlaftis reminisced. “This is where I wanted to be at the end of the day.”
Purdue winning out on such a highly pursued recruit so close to home was a gigantic win for the program, even with the obvious geographical advantage. From a macro view, it seems like his proximity to campus was the biggest selling point to choose head coach Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers. Then you learn about the family ties and it becomes more of a no-brainer for a Karlaftis to continue the proud tradition. A West Lafayette native herself, his mother Amy was not foreign to the university. Neither was his late father Matt, who had received his P.h.D from Purdue. The elder Karlaftis was also drawn to the game of football, having once walked onto the team at the University of Miami (FL) in the height of their prominence amongst the college football elite. From a line of Boilermakers, as you can imagine, the family was elated that George made the decision to stay home and don the black and gold.
“My family matched my excitement. There were a few tears of joy for sure.”
Also a prolific javelin thrower, George starred as a track and field competitor during his high school career. He graduated as a back-to-back state champion in the shot put, with a 60’½” personal best toss during his Junior season. As accomplished an athlete as you could imagine on the high school level, a lot was expected early on heading into his college career.
He started his Purdue career off with a big-time freshman season, concluding with Freshman All-American honors and second-team All-Big Ten honors after pacing the Boilermakers with 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He started all twelve games played. Despite the high expectations garnered as a recruit, Karlaftis exceeded even the loftiest of them as a true freshman, not only becoming a valuable contributor but one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the entire Big Ten conference. With those lofty goals all met, and in some instances shattered, Boilermaker supporters were left raising the bar for the talented defender. So what was the next step? Being among the elite in all of college football.
“I like to map out my goals. The biggest goal is to exceed expectations.”
Heading into the 2020 season, a lot was expected from the emerging star, now weighing in around 275 pounds. Unfortunately for the Purdue program, as well as the rest of the Big Ten conference, COVID-19 threatened to completely derail the conference’s season. The early plan was a complete cancellation of the fall season, pushing the season back potentially to the spring. Uncertainty swirled around the possibility of making it work, despite the uncertainty and daunting testing protocol schedule. Among the two major conferences with a similar outlook (the PAC 12 being the other), the Big Ten received major pushback from players, coaches, fans, and programs alike. The movement to return to the fall was led by a major level of support. So much so that the conference would eventually agree to a late October return. Despite an abbreviated season, excitement again swirled around the Big Ten programs. For Karlaftis specifically, the adversity led to a lot of positivity in the end.
“It was a whirlwind, to say the least. It felt like the longest offseason ever but the important things are we learned to overcome challenges and we’re safe.”
Despite the excitement to be back on the field, the haphazard season did not provide an adequate opportunity for Karlaftis to take that next step as a football player. Add in a lower leg injury that hampered him, relegating him to just two football games, the potential All American pass rusher was left to postpone his high expectations. With clear eyes, and hope for a more normalized offseason, he and the Purdue program have again bumped up expectations for what the 2021 season could bring. If able to take the next step, Karlaftis has an opportunity to ascend to one of the most dominant football players in all of college football, regardless of position.
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ON THE FIELD
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Luckily for the Purdue Boilermaker faithful, George Karlaftis III possesses both. Working the outside track, he quickly recognizes a swing pass to his side. Easily redirecting, he shows outstanding effort working laterally. The motor is easy to see but the amount of real estate he covers after redirecting is substantial for a player his size. His closing burst is uncommon for a 270-280 pound human.
Judging by his size profile, a common assumption would be that Karlaftis wins with his physicality and power profile, covering speed to power at a high rate. That assumption would hold true. Make no mistake, however, he is a successful outside track rusher who can put opposing offensive tackles in some very difficult positions. Not the bendiest player in the world, he does an outstanding job of positioning his body in relation to the quarterback, quickly transitioning and running the track with plus linear explosiveness. When he is able to affect the quarterback, he makes the most of his opportunities. Karlaftis is a runaway freight train with bad intentions for quarterbacks.
The read-option game can be an absolute headache for defenses. Crafted to make a player wrong and pray off of a bad decision, we have seen more than once a player grasping for air while a ball carrier breaks into the open for a huge gain. Best way to stop the read game? Confuse the mesh. Karlaftis does an outstanding job to not commit either way, maintain proper position, and create uncertainty. He’s able to finish for a huge tackle for loss – one of the 17 he had during the 2019 season.
Movement is a big selling point for Karlaftis. He possesses the type of size/frame that can be used all up and down the line of scrimmage in passing situations. Here, they slant him inside to create room for the free blitzer. The offensive line does a solid job accounting for him, but Karlaftis again shows off his fantastic motor to get in on the action. It doesn’t take talent to play with your hair on fire. His ability to finish here, on the other hand, that’s special. His closing speed for a player of his irregular size doesn’t come around often. Couple that with his length and he presents an outstanding tackle radius to finish a ton of plays in the backfield.
If the myriad of flashes is any indication, 2021 looks to be some long Saturdays for opposing offensive players, offensive lineman, and playmakers alike.
Growth through adversity is the model that George Karlaftis brings with him heading towards the 2021 season. With the madness of 2020 firmly in the rearview, building off of the outstanding work he has put on film during his fourteen games as a Boilermaker is the only goal. That growth has been a steady process physically, adding a substantial amount of weight to his NFL ready frame during the course of his Purdue career. After playing last season in the 275-277 range, he feels better than ever. For him, understanding what his body needs to be for the best version of himself has been vital to his development.
“I’ve learned how to take care of my body. In high school, I wasn’t too educated about proper nutrition, the importance of a sleep schedule, and didn’t really lift,” Karlaftis added.
NFL evaluators are already raving about Karlaftis’ physical gifts and frame for even further development down the line. He fits the mold of a big-bodied EDGE, with enough size/physicality to work inside in certain situations. A scheme diverse player who is an asset to either even or odd man front alignment, offering versatility that Purdue has used a ton over the last several seasons.
After playing in a four-man front as a true freshman, Purdue implemented an odd-man front more in 2020, seeing Karlaftis take a lot of reps inside. After that experience, the Boilermakers are set to revert back to an even front schematic approach, utilizing him off the edge. His experience inside, however, is a huge asset for the team in obvious passing situations. His combination of flexibility and first-step quickness is a headache for an interior offensive lineman to counteract. As jaw dropping as Karlaftis’ combination of size and athleticism is, his attention to detail is even more impressive. Sharing the Purdue ties, Karlaftis cites former Boilermaker star, and Pro Bowl pass rusher, Ryan Kerrigan as a person who has been a huge asset to him as he continues to develop as a football player.
“I talk to Ryan (Kerrigan) fairly frequently. He’s been a huge help to me,” Karlaftis shares. ”We do something similar physically, have a motor, and have the same love of the game.”
It is easy to see the parallels outside of the same helmet. There is a technical refined feel to Karlaftis, but with that in mind, people can underrate just how talented he is as a football player. When he discusses other huge influences, he clearly has a type: Big, physical, outstanding effort, and highly productive.
“J.J. Watt and Cam Jordan are a couple other of my favorites.”
Like Kerrigan, Watt, and Jordan, George Karlaftis will also soon be turning heads on Sundays. The question is whether that will occur during the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, or a year after. Whenever it does, the Boilermaker star is sure to hear his name called very early. Until then, expect a dynamic 2021 season from him, cementing himself as one of the most dynamic defenders in all of college football. All the talent is there. It is his for the taking. With his younger brother, Yanni set to join his older bro next season, the name Karlaftis is set to live in opposing players’ nightmares for the next several seasons.
An NFL Draft Analyst with extensive credits to his name, Ryan has joined XTB for a special edition series covering the next wave of prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. Ryan is a former member of the Sports Illustrated affiliated Draft Bible, where his work has been featured on SINow and Bleacher Report. Ryan also co-hosts the NFL Prospects Podcast.