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Kristjan Sokoli keeps bouncing from team to team, and from offense to defense

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Giants giving him a chance at defensive end

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks
Kristjan Sokoli
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

“A defensive lineman who was converted to center, who was then converted to a defensive end, and who is now being converted to a guard.”

That is how SB Nation’s Canal Street Chronicles summarized the NFL career of Kristjan Sokoli a year ago when the New Orleans Saints signed him as a free agent with the intent of playing him at guard.

It’s perfect.

I’m writing about Sokoli because now you can add another chapter to his ping-pong like NFL career. He did not make the Saints roster, lasted less than a week on the team’s practice squad, landed on the New York Giants practice squad as a defensive end the final week of the 2017 season, and is now heading to training camp with the Giants on a reserve/futures contract.

Sokoli’s NFL resume looks like this:

  • Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks to play center, after having been a collegiate nose tackle at the University of Buffalo. No, he had never played center. Appeared in one game for Seattle.
  • Cut by Seattle in 2016. Signed to the Indianapolis Colts practice squad as a defensive end.
  • Cut by the Colts for the 2017 season and signed by New Orleans as a guard.
  • Cut by the Saints and is now a defensive end trying to make it with the Giants.

That’s a lot to take in. Let’s focus on Sokoli today as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 300
Position: Defensive tackle
Experience: 3

2017 season in review

Sokoli started the season on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. He lasted less than a week, though, and was out of the league until the Giants added him to their practice squad in the final week of the season. The Giants then signed him to a reserve/futures contract for this season.

2018 outlook

Sokoli has never actually had a single position to call his own. He played both sides of the ball, and did the kicking, in high school. He played nose tackle out of necessity at Buffalo. We’ve been through the bouncing ball that has been his NFL career.

Where does he really belong?

The is what the NFL.com scouting report on Sokoli said prior to the 2015 NFL Draft:

Athletic frame on a natural 5­-technique who was forced inside into a nose spot in Buffalo. He plays with good arm extension and strength, but pass rushing is limited and will have to prove he can unlock explosiveness that his pro day unearthed.

With the Giants converting to a base 3-4 defense the 5-tech spot is where Sokoli is getting a look with the Giants.

Why so much curiosity and so many teams trying to figure out what to do with Sokoli? Athleticism, that’s why. He did not get an invite to the NFL Combine, but his Buffalo Pro Day numbers (4.81 40, 38-inch vertical jump, 34-inch arms, 31 bench press reps, 7.21 three-cone) would compare to players like J.J. Watt, Joey Bosa, Cameron Jordan and Mario Williams. all of those players have been pretty successful defensive ends. I haven’t found an exact match athletically as an offensive lineman, but Joe Thomas isn’t a bad one. Neither is former Giant Will Beatty.

Back in 2015, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called Sokoli “the fastest, most flexible athlete we have on that side of the ball.”

Then, of course, Carroll cut him after figuring out that he really wasn’t a center.

Anyway, the long and winding road for the NFL’s first Albanian-born player has led to the Giants. Which is a nice, full circle deal for Sokoli. He went to high school in Bloomfield, N.J. and apparently grew up rooting for the Giants once he settled in this country at age 9 and learned the game of football.

Can the Giants be the team with which Sokoli finally breaks through?

GM Dave Gettleman wants to build a deep, talented rotation of defensive linemen. At the 5-tech spots it looks like Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill are likely starters. Josh Mauro is a veteran, though he will miss the first four games due to as PED suspension. Kerry Wynn and fifth-round pick R.J. McIntosh are possibilities, as is Robert Thomas.

So, the path to a roster spot won’t be easy for Sokoli. At least, though, it appears that it will be on the side of the ball he played in college and that still appears to give him his best chance.