The Journal Gazette
Monday, December 06, 2021 12:00 am

Bell, Karlaftis to depart for NFL; bowl status uncertain

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Two of the best players in recent memory at Purdue will leave West Lafayette for the professional ranks when the season ends – and maybe sooner than that.

Wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis plan to end their Purdue careers after three seasons and enter the NFL Draft, where they will likely be early-round selections, Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm announced this afternoon. Brohm said neither player has made a decision about playing in the Music City Bowl against Tennessee on Dec. 30.

Brohm will offer his input on bowl participation to both players.

"I love when guys finish the season off and do their part and continue to challenge themselves to do great things," Brohm said. "But at the same time I respect each individual's decision about what's best for them. We're going to support all of our players either way."

Bell and Karlaftis were members of the 2019 recruiting class, which is the best of Brohm's tenure and was a top 25 class in the country. Karlaftis, a West Lafayette native, was a top 60 recruit nationally and the No. 1 recruit in the state, while Bell was also a four-star recruit and No. 2 in Indiana out of Warren Central in Indianapolis.

Both have been hugely-productive for three consecutive seasons beginning with Freshman All-American campaigns in 2019 on a 4-8 Boilermakers team.

Bell was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year that season, taking over as Purdue's top pass-catcher after Rondale Moore tore his ACL in September and holding the title for three seasons. Bell caught 86 passes for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns in that first season on campus and followed that with 53 catches for 625 yards and eight scores in just six games in 2020, when he was named First-Team All-Big Ten.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound wideout has turned in an all-time campaign for the Boilermakers in 2021, catching 93 passes for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns on his way to another First-Team All-Big Ten selection and conference Receiver of the Year honors. He is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in the country, and his best games came on the biggest stages: Bell had 200-receiving yard performances in top 5 victories over Iowa and Michigan State. His 53-yard catch-and-run that included a highlight-reel spin move helped clinch the win over the Spartans. 

Entering the bowl game, Bell is just 22 receiving yards shy of setting the Purdue single-season record.

Karlaftis was an All-Big Ten performer as a freshman in 2019, when he burst on to the scene with 17 tackles for loss, including seven sacks. He was All-Big Ten again in 2020 despite playing only three of Purdue's six games because of injuries and a bout of coronavirus. 

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound hometown hero ascended to First-Team All-Big Ten status this season with 39 tackles, including 10 for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for touchdown against Wisconsin, all despite facing constant double-teams. He nearly stopped the Notre Dame offense by itself in Purdue's 27-13 loss to the Irish; then-Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly noted he had to change his offense's protection scheme mid-game, otherwise "George was gonna wreck the day."

Bell and Karlaftis, in tandem with Moore, were particularly important recruits for the program-building process that has occurred under Brohm. As highly-rated in-state players that chose Purdue and then thrived immediately, they proved the Boilermakers are capable of developing top-level talent. Others have followed in their footsteps: linebacker Yanni Karlaftis (George's brother) in the 2021 class and quarterback Brady Allen and defensive lineman Joe Strickland in 2022 are all four-star recruits from Indiana who could be part of the next home-grown wave of talent in West Lafayette.

"Anybody in state or in the surrounding area that wants to come somewhere and be a difference-maker, help Purdue become great, make a name for themselves, do some great things in state with their family and friends a big part of it, with us trying to set them up for huge success after (Purdue), that's what we like to do and we're good at it," Brohm said.

"If you look at Rondale Moore, David Bell, George Karlaftis, those guys were three guys that could've pretty much went anywhere and they chose to come here and they have more than a bright future. People around this state appreciate what they've done and what they've given."

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