With the initial craze of free agency now behind us, it is time to look forward to the 2022 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Ravens currently have 10 picks, including the No. 14 overall pick — their highest since drafting All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the No. 6 overall pick in 2016.
For the second straight year, one of the team’s top offseason needs is at edge rusher. While they aren’t in dire need, as they were after losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in 2021, they still need help and depth in the pass-rushing department.
Purdue’ George Karlaftis is one of the top prospects in a draft class loaded with pass rushers. He has been a popular pick projected to be selected by the Ravens in the first round of several mock drafts over the past few months, and for good reason.
He is one of the most powerful and gifted edge defenders in this year’s crop. His motor never stops running and he is very diverse in his rush. Even though he is still just 20 years old, Karlaftis has the muscular and well-developed frame of a seasoned pro, and plays with the pop and power in his hands that can make him a menace when using a bull rush.
The Athens, Greece native’s plethora of pass rush moves and counter moves are as diverse as his athletic profile. He grew up playing many other sports overseas including water polo and was even on his home country’s under-16 national team. Karlaftis has only been playing football since the eighth grade when his family moved to America but he looks as natural and dominant on the edge as almost any player in the draft beyond maybe presumptive No. 1 overall pick, Aidan Hutchison of Michigan.
His best collegiate season came in his freshman year when he burst onto the scene to record 54 tackles, a team-high 17.0 for loss with 7.5 sacks, one interception, and two pass breakups in 12 starts. He was limited to just three starts in 2020 due to an injury and COVID-19 but still managed to get voted second-team all-conference.
In 2021 as a fully healthy junior, he was named to the AP All-American third-team and first-team all-conference in addition to being a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as one of the nation’s top defensive ends. He led the team in tackles for loss, forced three fumbles, and tied for the team lead in sacks with five in 12 starts.
Karlaftis has a great get-off, uses his ferociously active hands to quickly shed blocks, and possesses freakish closing speed once he hones in on opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers. Another attribute that projects to him being an instant impact player on the edge at the next level is that he never gets too far upfield in his rush or runs past the quarterback. He manages to consistently stay square, which will help him corral more mobile signal-callers that try to escape the pocket on a scramble, designed run, zone-read, or read option.
Purdue edge George Karlaftis became the 1st player to earn 10+ pressures vs an Iowa OL in the @PFF_College era yesterday.— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 17, 2021
If he wasn’t doubled/chipped/cut, he was in the QB’s face. Insane power and get-off. One of the few true “game-wreckers” in #CFB. pic.twitter.com/cAV5Bn1lvm
While he showed a tremendous amount of potential as a pass rusher at the college level, Karlaftis will need to get better against the run in order to become a complete defender that never has to come off the field. The Ravens have historically valued stopping the run on defense, although first-year defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald might want to put more of an emphasis on improving the pass rush going forward.
Either way, he will need to be able to consistently set a strong edge no matter where he lands. With the widespread adaptation of outside-zone running games, which are staples of the Shanahan West Coast style of offense, teams will run at and over him if he doesn’t show improvement.
He may have some trouble going up against tackles with good length so he will need to make up for it by being more fluid and less restricted or committed in his rush.
Karlaftis was once viewed as a lock to go in the top 10 but he lost some of his luster early on in the pre-draft process while seniors like Jermaine Johnson and Boye Mafe dazzled scouts and moved up draft boards at the Senior Bowl. Since he declared as junior, Karlaftis didn’t have any All-Star games to boost his stock. However, he did have an impressive showing of his athleticism at the 2022 Scouting Combine and is now starting to generate some top 20 buzz.
While some would view him as a bit of a reach at No. 14 overall, he will certainly be off the board by the time the Ravens pick in the second round and No. 45 overall. They could do what they love to do and trade back a few spots or even to the early 20s and land him at a better value while adding more draft capital.