KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One reason the Kansas City Chiefs selected defensive end George Karlaftis in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft was his energy. At Purdue, Karlaftis tended to go full speed on every play whether he was rushing the quarterback or defending the run.
Karlaftis confirmed this habit on the field during the early days of the Chiefs’ offseason practices.
“He goes 100 miles an hour,” coach Andy Reid said after a recent practice session. “Walk-throughs, everything. We had to slow him down.
“He moves around well when he’s in space. He’s got good hands, it looks like … but that motor is probably the thing that jumps out at you. He goes and goes.”
The Chiefs are going to need that energy from Karlaftis, their only significant pass-rush addition, as they attempt to revitalize a unit that fell to 29th in NFL sacks last season. Karlaftis had 29 sacks in 26 career games at Purdue.
“Relentless,” Karlaftis said in explaining his style of play. “I get after the quarterback. 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. … I’ve been only playing football for about six to seven years now, so I’m really excited to develop under a great system, great teammates, great organization.”
Karlaftis got a late start in football because he was born in Greece, where football does not have much presence, and lived there for much of his childhood. He moved with his family to the United States when he was 13 and is still growing within the game.
Once he got started in football, Karlaftis found he was not only good at it, but enjoyed it as well.
“My parents pushed me to do just about every sport imaginable,” Karlaftis said. “When you find the one you love, work as hard as you possibly can at it. I think there’s not a whole lot of sense of dedicating almost your whole life to doing something that you don’t do to the maximum ability every single time you’re out there.”
“I love everything about it,” Karlaftis said of football. “I love the offseason. I like the mental and physical challenge and strain and the chess game. I like every single play is a single challenge, both pre-snap, after the ball snap, 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.
“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.”
ESPN rated Karlaftis its No. 79 overall player in the 2019 college football recruiting class. He had offers from Alabama to Notre Dame. The Chiefs took him with the 30th overall pick in this year’s draft, but his late start in football is a reason to believe his ceiling is rising.
“All the people that we spoke to at Purdue just said all of his best football is in front of him,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “He had a water polo background, being born in Athens but getting to come over here with a late start to football, he picked it up quickly. One thing that is common in everyone that you talk to about George is his approach to the game and how important it is to him.”
The Chiefs lost one of their top pass-rushers from last season in defensive end Melvin Ingram, who signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins. But Chris Jones and Frank Clark, who have been first and second on the team in sacks in each of the past three seasons, are returning.
Their presence could mean plenty of pass-rush opportunities for a rookie defensive end.
“When you’re a defensive lineman, you want to get one-on-ones, whether that’s me or whoever,” Karlaftis said. “You want to get guys that are playing next to you who are really, really good players. Obviously, they’re great players and that just means more success for me and the whole unit.”