This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Yoros "George" Karlaftis
Position: Defensive Lineman
Height/Weight: 6-4, 266
Hometown: West Lafayette, IN
Below is a portion of Deep Sidhu's interview with D.J. Fezler, who covers Purdue University football and basketball for Sports Illustrated.
Sidhu: George Karlaftis is nicknamed "The Greek Freak." He has a really unique story about how he came from Greece and ended up in West Lafayette, Indiana. Can you give us some background on George and how he came to be the prospect that he is at Purdue today?
Fezler: Obviously, he was born in Greece, grew up there. Unfortunately, one of the reasons he ended up coming to the United States was the passing of his father, Matthew, back in 2014. That sparked the decision of his mom, Amy, to move the family back to her hometown of West Lafayette, where he ended up attending high school.
In Greece, he grew up a multi-sport athlete. He played soccer. He was a track and field athlete, had some background in water polo as well, but nothing in terms of American football. So he wasn't really exposed to that until he came to the United States at 13, played football at West Lafayette High School. He had some poking and prodding from his friends, encouraging him just because of his size, his athletic background, to give it a try. Coaches there were also trying to encourage him to join the team as well. He tried it out and obviously it's worked out for the better here for him.
Sidhu: Karlaftis might be the first Boilermaker taken in the Top Ten of the NFL Draft since 1987, when the Steelers drafted Rod Woodson with the No. 10 pick overall. How has Karlaftis dealt with just being in the national spotlight at Purdue coming from Greece?
Fezler: I think he's handled it great. Obviously, not as much experience as some other prospects and in the world of football but he's come into the Purdue football program, played defensive line in the Big Ten as a freshman. And if that doesn't show you that the moments aren't too big for him, then I don't really know what does. The comparisons were always going to be their predecessors, Ryan Kerrigan, as having a good NFL career. He was at Purdue.
When you just skip ahead to this year and you just look at this draft class alone, you don't even have to go outside of the Big Ten to see a player like Aidan Hutchinson from Michigan that's headlining this year's draft class. Karlaftis is being mentioned with names like that. But I think through all of this, he's kind of focused on himself, has always been a hard-working kid. He really focuses on the team, and I think that's what's really helped him have that success at the college level, to put him in position to be as high of a draft pick as you mentioned.
Sidhu: Karlaftis seems like he's just always around the ball. Give us a snapshot of some of the strengths of his game and how Purdue was really able to maximize his skill set in that defense.
Fezler: Obviously, the biggest thing for him is just his size and his strength. He's got great size, about 6-4, 270 pounds, and throughout the years he's become accustomed to really handling some double, triple teams as that primary pass-rushing threat on the Purdue defensive line. And that's really what he's been known for, is that power pass rusher. But in this past year, especially, Purdue went through some defensive coaching staff turnover, brought in some new coaches, kind of changed the philosophy of this defense in a more aggressive scheme. Because of that, I felt like the Boilermakers did a really good job of moving Karlaftis around. He was playing inside at times. He's playing outside at times, different sort of techniques, allowing him to play, standing up or in a three-point stance, just really mixing up the fronts to allow him to generate pressure from different areas of the defensive line. I think you really saw him prove himself in terms of his versatility, just showing that he was more than just that power rusher, someone who's going to kind of barrel through your chest every single snap. He's got a lot of things going for him now and he was able to really showcase that this year.
Sidhu: Looking back, is there a memorable game or matchup of George Karlaftis that really stands out in your mind?
Fezler: There's definitely a game that stands out for me, but I am going to I'm going to mention real quick a moment for him. He did show off that speed that he displayed at the Pro Day as well, with a 46-yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown in a loss against Wisconsin. But that was a loss. So maybe not a game that he wants to be remembered by. So I'll bring up Purdue's game against Iowa. It was the No. 3 then-rated Hawkeyes. Purdue went on the road to play them. They came away with a 24-7 upset and that was really, I think, the turning point for the team, allowing them to have the season that they had going 9-4, making it to the Music City Bowl, getting a victory over Tennessee and Karlaftis had a big part in only allowing the Hawkeyes to score seven points. You look at the stats from that game, he only had one solo tackle on one sack, so you're kind of like, how did he really impact the game? But if you watch the film, he was constantly in the backfield. He was pressuring the quarterback. He was disrupting plays even if some of those numbers didn't pop up necessarily on the stat sheet.
One thing that I wrote down, he was the first player to record 10 or more pressures in a game against an Iowa offensive line since Pro Football Focus started doing their advanced analytics for college football. So obviously the Hawkeyes have been several talented offensive linemen, have successful NFL careers in the past couple of years. For someone like Karlaftis to really get into the backfield whenever he was left 1-on-1, he was in the quarterback's face, forcing quick throws, disrupting passes, stopping the run. He's a great run stopper as well. We're talking about his pass rushing, but he kind of showed everything that he has to offer in a game like that, even if the stats didn't pop off the sheet.