Kristjan Sokoli remains an intriguing athlete along the offensive line, but the team’s increased depth along the line leaves him without a path to seeing playing time.
Last season, Seahawks fans watched in pain as athletic defensive tackles like Kawann Short, Geno Atkins, and Aaron Donald were able to dominate Seattle’s overmatched interior offensive line. Seattle’s answer to facing these unique defensive tackles? Stockpile as many athletes as possible on the offensive line to combat the dynamic athletes that play defensive line in today’s game.
Kristjan Sokoli is their grand experiment in this regard. The college nose tackle turned offensive lineman will most likely not contribute to the Seahawks this season. However, he was drafted in the hopes that he can match up athletically with the Kawann Short’s, Aaron Donald’s and Geno Atkins’ of the NFL. Despite being drafted as a center, his future position remains uncertain due to several recent additions to the interior offensive line. Where Seattle decides to line up Sokoli will ultimately play an enormous role in determining the future of Seattle’s uncertain offensive line.
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The Albanian-born Sokoli underwhelmed as a nose tackle at the University of Buffalo, showing no natural feel for the position. However, his freaky athleticism got him drafted as an offensive lineman by the Seahawks in 2015. His pro day numbers show elite athleticism for someone of Sokoli’s stature.
In fact, Sokoli is the only 4 sigma athlete in NFL history, per Zach Whitman’s SPARQ formula. To put this in layman’s terms, Sokoli is the greatest athlete the NFL has ever seen. The Seahawks took a gamble on his unique athleticism, taking him in round six of the 2015 NFL draft to be their latest defense to offense conversion project, and if all went well, their center of the future.
Last season, Seattle essentially redshirted Sokoli by keeping him on the 53 man roster, but never making him active on game day. Since the general public is not allowed access to most practices, we really have no idea how Sokoli progressed last year. However, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll seemed upbeat when asked about Sokoli’s progress in January,
"Kristjan Sokoli, I’m really excited about what he can do. But he’s a transition guy, and we decided not to try and force the issue with him to try to make him play right now… He’s an exceptional athlete. I want to see him play center, I want to see how he does there as he grows through it, and just see how much ground he can make up, and see where that leaves us. We’ll have one of the really good athletes at center if that’s where he winds up playing. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s athletic, and all of that."
Carroll’s thoughts on where Sokoli will line up next season wavered a bit during a recent interview:
"I just want to see him (Kristjan Sokoli) go. He’s got to develop. He’s got tremendous ability, he is the fastest, most flexible athlete we have on that side of the ball. He’s going to play guard and center. We have to make sure not to log jam him out of the center spot because he has the potential to be a really big time player, we will see if we can bring that to the front."
How Kristjan Sokoli develops will be crucial to Seattle’s future plans on the offensive line. Do they roll with Patrick Lewis for now and bank on Sokoli eventually becoming a dynamic, one of a kind center? Or do they attempt to plug him in at guard, a position that is easier to learn?
That’s a difficult question that the Seahawks will eventually have to answer. If they move him to guard, what becomes of Mark Glowinski or Rees Odhiambo, two high draft picks who look primed for starting jobs in the future?
And if they stick him at center, where do they put Joey Hunt, a pure center, and 6th round pick out of TCU that John Schneider and Pete Carroll couldn’t leave the draft without? Also, do they clear a certain spot and wait for Sokoli to arrive, or make him win the job amidst a cluster of young, hungry players? After a certain period of time, a player constantly switching positions will take its toll on his individual development as a lineman.
The center position is wide open but is stacked with young, unproven players like Justin Britt, Joey Hunt, Will Pericak and Patrick Lewis. At guard, there is less competition. Despite this, it will be harder for Sokoli to crack the starting lineup due to the presence of Germain Ifedi, Mark Glowinski, and Rees Odhiambo. Plus, the 300 pound Sokoli isn’t the big mauler type that Seattle typically likes at guard. There have even been people clamoring for Seattle to use Sokoli’s athleticism at fullback, where Seattle started 280 pound Will Tukuafu last season.
At Phase Two offseason practice, Sokoli reportedly lined up at left guard. During OTA’s he lined up at right guard. On May 8th, Carroll refused to rule Sokoli out of the center competition.
Regardless of where Seattle puts him, Sokoli is no slam dunk. He still has to learn the proper technique if he wants to crack the starting rotation. While he has exciting potential, it’s asking a lot of anyone to learn a completely new position in the pros. But, if he pans out, he will be labeled as Tom Cable’s greatest success story.
Despite not being a very high profile acquisition, Kristjan Sokoli’s fate is very important to the future of Seattle’s young offensive line.