The Seattle Seahawks came away from the 2015 NFL draft with eight new players. This, of course, is if you do not count the trade of a first-round pick that netted former New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
In those eight players, the Seahawks got a couple of pass-rushing prospects, a wide receiver, a couple of defensive backs and a trio of offensive line prospects. Many of the incoming rookies, like troubled Michigan defensive end Frank Clark and small-school cornerback Tye Smith from Towson, come with unique and interesting stories.
However, none of the incoming rookies is quite as intriguing as former Buffalo defensive tackle Kristjan Sokoli.
Sokoli, selected with the 38th pick in the sixth round (No. 214 overall), served as a nose tackle at Buffalo. The 6'5", 300-pound defender was never truly dominant at the position, though he did produce 32 tackles and six passes defended in 2014.
While Sokoli's on-field production in college was far from impressive, it likely wasn't the thing that caught the eyes of Seattle decision-makers in the predraft process.
|Kristjan Sokoli Pro-Day Results|
|225-Pound Bench Press||31 Reps|
During his pro-day workout, Sokoli rattled off a 4.84-second 40-yard dash, a 38-inch vertical jump and 31 reps of the 225-pound bench press.
These are numbers that suggest top-notch athleticism for a player of Sokoli's size. You can bet that they caught the attention of Seattle general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.
However, workout numbers and athletic potential are not the reasons Sokoli is intriguing as a Seattle prospect.
What is truly interesting is that offensive line coach Tom Cable apparently plans to move the former defensive lineman over to center. If he earns the starting job there, he will take over for two-time Pro Bowler Max Unger, who was traded in the deal that brought Graham to Seattle.
According to a report by Daniel Rubens of seattlepi.com, this was Cable's plan throughout the predraft process.
Sokoli said the following of his predraft experience, per Rubens:
I was open to the opportunity, I didn’t want to close the door. As time passed, I went on an official pre-draft visit to the Seahawks as well, and getting to know (offensive line coach) Tom Cable through that, and also getting to know Tom Cable through a personal workout here in New Jersey, I really felt like it would be a great fit for me.
Moving a collegiate defensive lineman to the other side of the ball may seem unconventional, but it isn't a foreign concept for Seattle. Offensive line coach Tom Cable did the same thing with former NC State defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who became Seattle's starting right guard.
Though the Seahawks drafted two collegiate offensive linemen, it will be Sokoli who gets the first crack at the center job, according to Curtis Crabtree of Sports Radio KJR and ProFootballTalk.com:
Sokoli is also an interesting prospect because of the unique journey he took to get to the NFL in the first place.
Born in Albania, Sokoli didn't move to the United States or begin speaking English until age nine. Sokoli spoke about the experience, via the Seahawks' official website:
My dad came here and he applied for political asylum, or refugee, and he eventually won the paperwork. It took him about three years and it was an extremely hard and stressful process for me and my family.
Thankfully, since about the middle of high school, we've all had citizenship. We're very proud American citizens.
For a kid to immigrate to America at age nine, then learn the game of football well enough to earn a shot in the NFL is pretty remarkable.
According to a report by Kenneth Arthur of SportsonEarth.com, Sokoli is the first Albanian-born player to reach the NFL.
Of course, the Seahawks are a team used to taking the unconventional approach to unique players. This is the team that took a chance on a little-known receiver-turned-cornerback named Richard Sherman and that handed the starting quarterback job to a 5'11" third-round kid named Russell Wilson.
If Sokoli can make a successful transition to center, he might just be the next underdog to take his unique story into the Seattle spotlight.