I'm taking Center OFF my Seahawks draft board
Seaside Joe 1124: Why Seattle won't be selecting a center before Day 3
In 2015, I was running a live Seahawks NFL Draft show with a Field Gulls writer by the name of Zach Whitman. It was late in the sixth round, and we were just talking about the prospects who Seattle could potentially pick with their upcoming compensatory selections at 209 and 214. In those days, I would livestream for literally 12 straight hours during the latter rounds of the draft and by pick 200, everyone starts to feel a little wonky.
It would be great to know where those videos are now, so I could re-listen to our reaction to pick 200… the Detroit Lions selected safety Quandre Diggs out of Texas.
Four picks later, the Baltimore Ravens selected “wide receiver” Darren Waller out of Georgia Tech.
At 209, Seattle made their first of two sixth round comp picks, taking defensive end Obum Gwacham out of Oregon State. Zach had created a website called Three Sigma Athlete, measuring athletic performance based on the SPARQ metric and testing results from combines and pro days. Gwacham was a terrific athlete, posting the sixth-fastest 40-yard dash among defensive ends (at 6’5, 246) and all five edge rushers ahead of him went in the first three rounds.
But if Gwacham is a terrific athlete, then the Seahawks’ next pick literally broke the mold of the “Three Sigma Athlete” and figuratively broke Zach Whitman’s brain when he was selected.
One of my all-time favorite draft memories, five picks after Gwacham, the Seahawks picked an unheralded defensive tackle out of the University of Buffalo and the first Albanian-born player in NFL history: Kristjan Sokoli.
Despite his lack of “herald” in the draft, Whitman went full scream mode for like :30 straight seconds and I wasn’t even comprehending why until he caught his breath again. Whitman said that Sokoli, if the team moved him to center, would become his first ever “Four Sigma Athlete.”
The “perfect” athlete.
I’ve no idea what happened to Zach. Not sure where he is. I do know what happened to Sokoli.
Seattle coaches did move Kristjan Sokoli from defensive tackle and immediately began working on the difficult assignment of turning him into an NFL center despite the fact that he hadn’t snapped a ball until he was 23. The upside to drafting Sokoli was that he was a perfect 10 on the Relative Athletic Score:
At 6’5, 290 lbs, and with 32” arms, Sokoli’s 4.86 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day would be the fourth-fastest ever at the combine for an offensive lineman, behind only Aviante Collins, Chris Chester, and Richie Incognito. He was faster than the 4.89 run by Jason Kelce, and Kelce weighed 10 lbs less than Sokoli when he ran the 40.
His 38” vertical is higher than any offensive lineman in combine history, to this day.
His 31 reps on the bench matches the figure put up by Steve Hutchinson in 2001.
His 119” broad was tied for the furthest ever, until Cole Strange hit 120” this year.
His 4.36 short shuttle tied center Nick Mangold for 11th-best ever.
His 7.25 in the three-cone is third-best ever.
Another other exceptional 290-300 lb interior linemen in combine history are Kyle Long, Joel Bitonio, Evan Mathis, and Ryan Kalil, so it’s understandable then that Seattle played their shot in the dark in the sixth round on Sokoli.
Despite the FACT that the Seahawks were literally only drafting an athlete—because they had to start from scratch with him as a football player—Sokoli was such a special athlete that some team had to make a play for him. What’s actually surprising about the Sokoli pick for Seattle though is that the Seahawks… Desperately needed a center in 2015.
Instead, they picked a defensive tackle.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider didn’t draft Max Unger, they only inherited him and then asserted him as the center. A great center.
But then in 2015, after back-to-back Super Bowls, Pete and John did something that they NEVER do. As a matter of fact, the Russell Wilson trade may have been the next legitimate time that the Seahawks have done this: They let go of a great player while he was expected to still be in his prime. Seattle cashed in Unger’s value, as well as a first round pick, to acquire Jimmy Graham from the Saints.
Unger would play four full seasons for New Orleans as one of the top centers in the NFL. The Seahawks have had monumental struggles at the position for the seven years since trading Unger… but that has never seemed to bother Pete and John enough for them to do anything about it.
The 2015 Seahawks infamously named Drew Nowak as the starting center, then replaced him midseason with Patrick Lewis. Sokoli hung at the very end of the 53-man roster, learning how to play one of the more difficult positions in football.
The 2016 Seahawks gave up on Justin Britt as a guard, one year after giving up on him as a tackle, and inserted him at center. Britt spent three and a half years there and that was good enough for Pete. It was in 2019 that the team eventually found out what they had in Joey Hunt, a sixth round pick in 2016, one year after using a sixth on Sokoli.
But Hunt has only played 10 snaps in the NFL over the last two seasons.
Seattle parted with Hunt and Britt in 2020, finally placing 2017 second rounder pick Ethan Pocic in the middle that year. The Seahawks were not impressed enough with Pocic’s 14 starts to offer him a new contract, but neither were the other 31 teams, and Pocic came back on a one-year deal. Pocic started 10 games in 2021, replacing former Texans’ seventh round pick Kyle Fuller at the midway point.
Pocic signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Browns this week. The Seahawks re-signed Fuller instead, but with practically the opposite of a guarantee that he would compete to start. Seattle had previously signed Austin Blythe to a one-year, $4 million deal and Carroll confirmed that Blythe, Fuller, and Canadian undrafted free agent Dakoda Shepley would be the order of depth for the upcoming season.
Shepley is not the athlete that Sokoli is, but that is certainly why the Seahawks are hanging onto him as a “maybe” and Seattle’s mostly got the position set.
In the past, I’ve written about Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum as a “special football player” in the mold of Aaron Donald, but then Rob Staton came on the podcast and told me that his top two centers were actually Cam Jurgens and Cole Strange. That Linderbaum might be available at picks 40 and 41.
For a normal team, I might say that Blythe’s one-year deal is hardly a guarantee that the franchise sees the center position as “set” if there’s indeed a great prospect like the next Creed Humphrey available to them. But now I see that the Seahawks are not a normal team with regards to the center position.
They didn’t draft Max Unger, and then when he added a lot of value, they immediately traded him for something they thought was better.
The only true center that the team has EVER draft, EVER, I mean, EVER, is Joey Hunt in the sixth round in 2016. Ethan Pocic was a versatile offensive lineman who the team would’ve loved to move to a tackle spot. That’s where he started his career. Sokoli was a defensive tackle. So out of more than 100 Seahawks draft picks under Pete and John: ONE center. And at most, three. Two of the three went in the sixth round.
Seattle didn’t panic when they trade Max Unger. They didn’t panic when the 2015 season was a disaster. They didn’t worry that Britt was a below-average center for over three years. They didn’t push the “center emergency” button in free agency in 2020, 2021, or 2022.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that Pete Carroll doesn’t give a shit about center.
I’m taking Tyler Linderbaum off of my board. I’m taking Cam Jurgens off of my board. I’m taking Cole Strange off of my board. The Seahawks will not draft a center in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Seahawks waived Kristjan Sokoli at the end of 2016 training camp and he went over to the Indianapolis Colts, who moved him back to defensive line. He went to the Saints in 2017, and they moved him back to offensive line! Then he went to the Giants as a DEFENSIVE LINEMAN in December 2017, but sadly tore his ACL early in 2018 training camp. Sokoli was picked in the 2020 XFL Draft and briefly signed with the German Football League in 2021.
When I last spoke to Sokoli, he told me that he was going to leave football behind and focus on a career in finance, which was his job-away-from-job as far back as the Rolling Stone article I wrote about him in 2015. However, I reached out to Sokoli this week and he told me he’s back at it with football, recently signing to play with the Houston Gamblers (as a center) in the USFL.
Kristjan Sokoli will be my guest on the Seaside Joe podcast this weekend, so please hit subscribe and stay tuned to hear what he had to say on his ridiculous athleticism, working with Tom Cable, his experiences on the Seahawks and in the NFL, plus much more. I’m working hard to make this newsletter/podcast/video channel special enough for you to hit subscribe and share, so take a moment to consider:
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