2022 NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis

George Karlaftis

From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I am profiling an edge rusher whose motor is one of the highest in the entire 2022 class, and helped lead to a productive career in the Big Ten.

#5 George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue (Jr.) — 6036, 266 lbs.

Measurements

Pro Day

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
George Karlaftis 6036/266 10 2/8″ 32 5/8″ 78 7/8″
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.78 1.65 4.36 N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
10’1″ 38″ 21

The Good

— The definition of a high motor player. Fights, scraps, and will keep driving from start of play until he needs separated from somebody.
— Continued effort will get a lot of flags drawn on his blockers.
— Will always be one of the strongest players on the field. Can easily bully linemen start to finish, normally controls any battles he is engaged in.
— Very powerful first punch, noticeably drives them back a couple steps when he lands it clean, and can knock them off-balance to cut inside with that move alone.
— Excellent pass rush plan built on his power. Walks blockers back into the QB’s lap with initial punch and continued drive, and rips or pulls them free to create clear lane.
— Mixes in non-power moves to his pass rush repertoire. Can swim around or olé blockers, and will burn them when he catches them lunging off the line. Surprisingly good swim move.
— No hesitation between beating one block and delivering a move to beat another one. Smooth mover with strong stamina that can beat multiple different blocks and still get home.
— Keeps eyes on the QB as he is rushing the pocket, adjusts his direction to stay in pursuit even when engaged while the QB escapes the pocket.
— Closes incredibly quick on QBs and runners. Would be upper tier for a smaller player, incredible for someone his size.
— Powerful hitter who punishes players and sets a tone. Should have no problems forcing fumbles.
— On-field leader who will take charge, call out adjustments and get his linemates into position.

The Bad

— Trying to run wide along the arc, could get caught up high by tackles and kept in isolation or driven away from the play when he tries to rely purely on a speed rush without much contact, or when letting tackles initiate contact.
— Struggled against double teams, didn’t have a lot of plans for how to evade or defeat them.
— Doesn’t impact the run as much as he does the pass. Excels less at defending variety of gaps as opposed to attacking a fixed area (the pocket).
— Won’t free himself in time from driving a blocker back to hit a nearby runner, and can be caught up high just long enough for runners to hit lane.
— Doesn’t consistently set a hard edge against runs his direction.
— Will miss some tackles when he can’t square up or make good contact with a runner in a lane.

Bio

— Started all 27 games he appeared in across three seasons at Purdue. Played in 12 games his true freshman (2019) and junior (2021) seasons, opted out of bowl game in 2021.
— Played in only three games in 2020, missed remaining three games with left ankle injury and COVID-19.
— 2021 All-Big Ten first team, 2019 & 2020 second team.
— 2021 third team All-American, 2019 freshman All-American.
— 2021 Bednarik Award semifinalist, 2020 Watch List (best defensive player); 2020 & 2021 Nagurski Award Watch Lists (best defensive player); 2021 Ted Hendricks Award finalist (best defensive end); 2021 Lott Impact Award semifinalist, 2020 Watch List (outstanding defensive player)
— Career stats: 99 tackles (64 solo), 25.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, five passes defensed, one interception.
— 2021 stats: 41 tackles (31 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles, two passes defensed.
— Freshman season featured career-high 54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries.
— Played stand-up and in the dirt on both sides of the Purdue defensive line.
— 4-star recruit, chose Purdue over Michigan and Miami (FL). Received over 15 offers, including Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State.
— Attended high school in the same city as Purdue.

Tape Breakdown

In my series examining all of the names to know ahead of college football’s past season (as it pertained to the 2022 Draft), one of the players whose film stood out the most was Karlaftis. Watching his work as a freshman, he looked like a future no-doubter of a first-round pick, but the absence of a lot of tape during his three-game sophomore season put a lot of pressure on whether he could back up what many saw from his first season at Purdue.

The pressure wasn’t too much for Karlaftis, who spent his junior season as one of the best edge rushers in college football before declaring for the draft a year early. The high motor that made him one of my favorite watches before the 2021 season remained, and helped him put some strong reps together across all of his games this season. In fact, the first game I watched of his from this season was also the only one for a player I’ve scouted this draft cycle, where I filled an entire page of my notebook with time stamps and scouting notes of.

Karlaftis is the definition of what a high motor is. From the second the ball is snapped through until the play has been blown dead, he is giving all-out effort, and trying to win whatever type of matchup or race he is involved in. And where that manifests most is his work along the line, where his strength makes him an absolute bully against blockers.

Just watch him working off the left side of the D-Line against Notre Dame (first clip), and then the opposite edge against Northwestern (second clip), to see how he can dominate opposing blockers with his strength.

Karlaftis possesses an incredibly powerful punch that will noticeably knock linemen bigger than him backward or off-balance, depending on which direction he hits it. Against Notre Dame’s Josh Lugg, he delivers it head-on, and you see Lugg immediately get sent backward and begin the process of getting sent into the grass. Karlaftis, in his signature style, continues driving Lugg backward even as he is falling, and in the end actually knocks him right into his quarterback for the sack.

You could pick from many examples across his other games, but the other example of Karlaftis manhandling opposing blocks I selected was this one against Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. Same start as the clip against Notre Dame, just from the opposite side of the line: Karlaftis initiates contact, and from there it’s just a rapid march right into the quarterback’s lap, where he is fortunate to have a quick throw available on the screen play. This is the process by which Karlaftis over-matched blockers at Purdue: Get off quick, land that initial power punch, and then continuously drive his man backward.

His pass rush plan, built on strength, is not limited just to out-matching guys with a pure bull rush. Karlaftis will also rip and pull players by him, whether he gets them off-balance before the rip or not. Watch him do so here against Minnesota’s Sam Schlueter.

In this rep, Karlaftis does get Schlueter lunging, by initially setting up like he was going to use him trademark bull rush. As soon as Karlaftis pulls his arms back and fakes to run the arc, he catches Schlueter leaned too far forward, and can easily pull him right on by, and has a clear lane to deliver a hit on quarterback Tanner Morgan just after the pass is thrown.

Karlaftis will mix in other moves to his plan, including more finesse options, to keep defenders guessing. Here are just a couple of those other options he has to beat linemen, which he broke out against Notre Dame. The first sees him lined up against the right guard, and using a spin move to chase the quarterback from the pocket. The second, you see him swimming inside on the left tackle, again getting a clear lane to the QB, and this time forcing a quick throw to the outside.

Karlaftis is a good athlete for his size, testing well during the pre-draft process, and he uses some of that athleticism on the snaps you’ve seen so far. With that athleticism, he is very quick to close on quarterbacks once he beats a lineman, and leaves passers just a brief moment to dump a pass off before absorbing a sack.

Continuing the run of Notre Dame clips (one of his best games of the season), watch how quickly Karlaftis corners Lugg, and then look at that burst that he uses to get to quarterback Jack Coan and nearly pick up the sack, or even a forced fumble. You’ll also notice how big that hit is, something else Karlaftis brings to the field. He is a tone-setter in how he hits players, who offenses do not want to give a chance to square up against one of their own, as you’ll see in this highlight of a run stop against Northwestern.

Despite that above clip, when looking at where Karlaftis has room to improve in the NFL, the main place to focus is on defending against the run. While his style of bullying linemen backward works tremendously well when pursuing a fixed spot (the QB in the pocket), it doesn’t let him adjust and make plays when having to quickly adjust to whatever gap the runner is trying to hit. In trying to follow runners and get in position to make a play, Karlaftis can also be caught up high by blockers, and walled off from following or contacting the back.

This is one rep where Minnesota’s Schlueter gets the better of Karlaftis. They meet up high, but Schlueter keeps Karlaftis engaged and battling to get free as Minnesota running back Mar’Keise Irving heads to his side, and then kicks out to the left.

Once more back to Notre Dame for this clip, with Karlaftis lined up off left tackle (hidden by Purdue #6). Again, Karlaftis is caught up high, and isn’t able to break himself free to get an arm on Kyren Williams as he runs by. He is not helpless against the run by any means, and was a solid defender on that front for Purdue. But for as skilled as he is in rushing the passer, and the variety of ways he has to beat blockers, he has room to improve to bring that area of his game up to the level that the rest of it is at.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an area for him to work on in rushing the passer, either. Karlaftis excels when attacking close to the line and using his power. However, he can be caught up high or kept out in isolation by tackles when he chooses to try and win purely with speed and minimal contact while running the arc

One of the main games where that was visible from his final season was against Ohio State, working against tackles Nicholas Petit-Frere and Dawand Jones. This rep comes against Jones. Karlaftis doesn’t try to win with power as he normally does, and instead tries to work his way around Jones along the arc. Jones is able to drive him wide and keep him from affecting a quicker throw from C.J. Stroud, with Karlaftis only getting free with a backside spin move after the pass is well away. Other reps from that contest (and others) follow the same type of outline. Karlaftis tries to go around a tackle on the arc rather than through them (or some combination of power/speed), and is driven wide or caught up high while wide of the pocket, and kept away from the QB.

Conclusion

It wasn’t an easy final season for Karlaftis. Not only did he appear in just three games the prior year, but given his status as one of college’s best edge rushers, he faced constant double and even triple teams from opponents. Even if he couldn’t match the numbers of his freshman year, Karlaftis still received plenty of accolades (and some All-American buzz), and showed on tape he is the high-end draft prospect many began to label him as after his first season at Purdue.

Even when facing stronger linemen in the NFL than he did in college, Karlaftis is someone whose strength-based portfolio will lead to production at the next level, and his motor will not only help him put up stats, but continually improve as he proceeds through his first year at the next level. He might not be an annual double-digit sack player for a defensive line, but he projects as a dependable edge who can play stand-up or in the dirt, threaten double-digit sacks in a season, and be an on-field leader and steady contributor for a defense. His skillset should be good for a few highlight reel moments as a rookie, and he should be a starter from day one for whichever franchise drafts him.

Projection: Day 1 (First Round)

Depot Draft Grade: 8.9 (Future Quality Starter)

Games Watched: 2021: at Notre Dame, vs. Minnesota, at Ohio State, at Northwestern

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