Everywhere Purdue University coach Jeff Brohm turned in the Kozuch Football Performance Complex, George Karlaftis was there.
“You always thought there were four Georges in the building because you always saw him,” Brohm said during a recent phone interview with the Beacon Journal.
Growing up in Athens, Greece, Karlaftis learned the value of hard work as a water polo goalie for a highly competitive club team and eventually the under-16 national team. After his father, Matthew, died of a heart attack at the age of 44 in 2014, Karlaftis, his three younger siblings and their mother, Amy, moved to her hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana. Karlaftis was 13 at the time.
“We made the move here to be closer to my mom’s support system, my mom’s family,” Karlaftis said last month during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Karlaftis started playing football in eighth grade because his friends were doing it. He evolved into a standout defensive end at West Lafayette High School, and he’s on the verge of being picked up by an NFL team in the April 28-30 draft after spending the past three seasons at Purdue.
“Whoever gets him, they’re going to have an All-Pro guy for 12-plus years,” Brohm said. “I mean, these guys work at it, and if you tell him that he’s not doing something good enough, he’ll figure out a way to work hard enough to get it done, and it’ll happen fast. Whatever you ask him to do, he’ll do it times 10, and he’s eager and willing to learn. He wants to know more. He studies. He puts in extra time. There is no ego. There are zero issues off the field. He’s going to be a dominant player. ”
Karlaftis describes himself with one word – relentless.
“That’s how I approach life,” he said, “how I approach the game, in terms of my technique, in terms of how I play, my motor, my effort, everything about it.”
Would the Cleveland Browns move up and back into the first round after the Deshaun Watson trade?
Strongside defensive end is the ideal position for Karlaftis in the NFL, Brohm said, and the Browns have a need there in the spot opposite All-Pro end Myles Garrett. Even if the franchise re-signs unrestricted free agent Jadeveon Clowney, drafting for a succession plan at edge defender should not be ruled out.
A partnership between Karlaftis and the Browns is an extremely long shot, though. He’s projected to become a first-round pick, and the Browns don’t have a selection in the opening round because they traded the 13th overall choice to the Houston Texans on March 18 as part of a blockbuster, controversial move for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
A bold trade up from the second round, where the Browns are scheduled to pick at No. 44 overall, would be required to land a prospect the caliber of Karlaftis, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection who, by Purdue’s count, led the Boilermakers last season as a junior in tackles for loss (11½), sacks (five ), forced fumbles (three), fumble recoveries (two) and quarterback hurries (eight) in 12 games.
A news conference like no other:As Cleveland Browns introduce Deshaun Watson, the QB defends himself against sexual misconduct and sexual assault allegations
NFL Draft preview:With no first-round pick, Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry seeks his next Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Based on trade value charts and deals in recent drafts, the Browns could conceivably move up from No. 44 to somewhere in the 20s by trading two third-round picks. They have two third-round choices this year and will have another one in 2023, with two of those three stemming from the Minnesota Vikings hiring Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their general manager in January.
In November 2020, NFL owners approved a resolution stipulating teams that have a minority coach or executive become a head coach or GM with another club will receive a third-round compensatory pick for two consecutive years. The first Black man in Vikings history to hold the title of GM, Adofo-Mensah spent the past two seasons as the Browns’ vice president of football operations.
When Browns GM Andrew Berry was asked March 29 during the NFL owners meetings if he would think about trading up to No. 22 overall, he said, “You never know.”
Then again, Karlaftis might not last until the 20s.
Will the Browns draft a kicker to challenge incumbent ?:Cleveland re-signs Chase McLaughlin
Cleveland secures a key specialist:Browns sign former Green Bay Packers punter Corey Bojorquez to two-year contract
With unusual journey, George Karlaftis exceeded expectations at Purdue
In the unlikely event of the Browns moving back into the first round, Karlaftis is hardly the only player Berry could target. But if there were anyone the Browns would pursue in such a scenario, it would almost certainly be a defensive end or a wide receiver – those remain the most glaring needs on the roster.
Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, another player widely projected to become a first-round pick, has a pre-draft visit to Browns headquarters scheduled for Friday, a league source said, confirming multiple reports.
Minority stake provided virtually no training for Cleveland:Jimmy, Dee Haslam say Steelers experience didn’t prepare them to own Browns: ‘You don’t know anything’
Karlaftis, who turned 21 on Sunday, is also intriguing because of his rapid rise in a sport he knew nothing about until he was a teenager.
“I was relying on my athletic ability, my natural instinct,” Karlaftis said. “I didn’t know what a first down was, how to get in a stance, how to throw a spiral. I still really can’t throw a spiral. That was the toughest thing – not knowing anything about it at all. ”
Not long after Brohm became the coach at Purdue on Dec. 5, 2016, he heard about Karlaftis playing at the high school right around the corner from campus. The Boilermakers saw his potential, offered him a scholarship and ultimately had their expectations for him shattered.
“We thought he was going to be raw when we got him. He hadn’t played a lot of football, ”Brohm said. “He had a good frame. He says all the right things. He was eager and willing to learn. We thought he had a great chance to be a great player. Now after he got here, you can times that by five as far as the work ethic he had and the desire to be great. ”
Karlaftis believes his dedication to football is a reflection of how he was raised.
“My parents always said find something you love and work as hard as you possibly can to become the best version at that,” he said. “I wanted to be the best.”
At the combine, Karlaftis measured 6 feet, 3¾ inches and weighed 266 pounds. He weighed 263 pounds at Purdue’s pro day on March 29, when he posted an unofficial time of 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to the school.
Karlaftis credits his water polo training as a child with building his lower-body strength and power.
“[When] I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I had to hold a chair with my shoulders out of the water, my chest out of the water for 10 minutes in a row, ”he said.
The way the Cleveland Browns operate will probably look much different:With Deshaun Watson aboard, Kevin Stefanski doesn’t rule out wholesale changes to offense
The workouts were about as grueling as the time commitment, another aspect of Karlaftis’ unusual background that translated to football.
Karlaftis said he would come home from school, do homework for about a half hour and then practice water polo from 5 pm until 10 or 11 pm
“I was practicing with grown men there – no exaggeration,” he said. “I was playing against better competition, kind of like you do from going from high school to college. It taught me long hours and to grind for what you want. ”
Will Deshaun Watson is suspended:NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says ‘no time frame’ on decision regarding new Cleveland Browns quarterback
What is the outlook for George Karlaftis as an NFL player?
Karlaftis graduated from Purdue in three years with a degree in retail management and a 3.6 grade-point average. He would juggle academics with football responsibilities and routinely be at the team’s facility from 9 am until 9 pm When COVID-19 protocols shut him out, he studied and watched a film at his home, which was across the street from the facility. There were times he would borrow Brohm’s iPad and computer during the holidays and other school breaks.
“He was in here as much as coaches, if not more. That’s what he wanted to do, and he was obsessed with it, “Brohm said. “He had a burning desire to make it in the NFL and be a great player. He’s on that path right now.
“When you talk about guys spending extra time in the building and extra meetings with their coaches and watching extra movies, I haven’t been around anybody like that, and that’s even at the quarterback position.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam offers insight:Cleveland had ‘a lot to overcome’ in Deshaun Watson derby, including weather
In 2019, Karlaftis started 12 games, led Purdue with 17 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with 7½ sacks, earning first-team Associated Press Freshman All-American honors.
But in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a left leg injury and COVID-19 limited Karlaftis to just three games. He had two sacks and was voted second-team All-Big Ten.
Although Karlaftis bounced back last season, he has never produced double-digit sacks.
“Without question, he’ll have better stats in the NFL,” Brohm said. “Here he was every game getting double-teamed and triple-teamed and they were aware of him. The few times he was able to go one on one, he made plays. If you called the 12 other teams we played and asked them, they had to block things different because of him.
“It was tough to do much against him in practice because he would be in the backfield always. We didn’t want to adjust everything we did in practice to contain him and to chip him and to block him with two guys. We wanted to try to practice normal football, but it was hard to do against him. He doesn’t have a switch that turns off. If it’s a football practice or game, it’s full speed. ”
Free agents to watch ahead of NFL Draft:Cleveland Browns have ‘mutual interest’ with Jadeveon Clowney, Jarvis Landry
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Karlaftis had 54 pressures and earned a 90.6 pass-rushing grade last season despite often garnering attention from multiple blockers at the same time.
“You’re trying to get to the quarterback by any means necessary,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a double- or triple-team, single block or unblocked.
“You’re out there fighting for your food basically. You’re like a lion trying to get after a gazelle. ”
It’s probably a stretch to think the Browns will be hunting for a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but never say never.
What NFL draft picks do the Browns have?
After the blockbuster move for Watson, the Browns have the following seven selections in the 2022 draft:
Second round, 44th overall
Third round, 78th overall
Third round, 99th overall
Fourth round, 118th overall
Sixth round, 202nd overall from Dallas
Seventh round, 223rd overall from Detroit
Seventh round, 246th overall from Buffalo
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.