The Ability Khyiris Tonga Provides

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Khyiris Tonga has a wonderful opportunity in front of him.

Drafted in the 7th-round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the former Bear hasn’t had too much chance to distinguish himself in his professional career. For the most part, he has been a depth option, catching the occasional start here and there (4 total across a pair of seasons). Signing with the Vikings last year, though, did improve his fortunes. The monstrous defensive tackle ended up being a rock-solid contributor.

Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs against the Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Part of what makes him so unique among Minnesota’s defensive linemen is his size. He’s humongous, a wonderful quality for an interior defensive lineman in the NFL. In all likelihood, Brian Flores will be leaning on him to be an impossible-to-move presence along the interior of the defensive line.

Khyiris Tonga and the Size at DT

If you hop over to Minnesota’s roster on the team website, you can see the listed weights for the roster. At times, the number isn’t going to be an accurate reflection of where the player actually finds himself. For instance, Ed Ingram is listed as being at 307 but we know from his recent interview that he’s at 317. So, proceed with some caution.

Regardless, the broader point remains: the listed weights do help us to see what kind of size the Vikings have along the interior of their defensive line. Khyiris Tonga is coming in at an impressive 338 pounds. Can’t teach that size, folks. Either a player has it or he doesn’t. Partnering the weight with the 6’4″ length means the 26-year-old DT has a tremendous build for being a DT.

We also think of Calvin Avery, a recent addition in undrafted free agency. Mr. Avery is coming in at 343; he’s fighting for a roster spot. Otherwise, the team is working with players like T.J. Smith (300), Jaquelin Roy (305), Harrison Phillips (307), and Ross Blacklock (307).

Of course, having tremendous size doesn’t guarantee anything. Large defensive tackles can be ineffective; undersized defensive tackles can be effective (hello, Aaron Donald).

Purple Headlines of the Week: Flores Presser, Vikings Re-Sign 2 Players, Derek Carr Hits FA
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA;Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Nevertheless, we can likely press the point: having size in the middle often does prove to be instrumental in playing sound defense. Being able to soak up double teams along the line of scrimmage while maintaining one’s ground can be the difference between a 2-yard run and a 12-yard run. Consistently overwhelming the iOL not only creates pressure on passing downs but allows the linebackers to move freely on running downs.

Tonga, in short, can allow his teammates to be great. Just think back to Linval Joseph’s impact in that 2017 defense for a recent example. Somehow finding a way to start replicating some of Joseph’s impact would mean Tonga has become an ultra-important part of the Brian Flores defense.

Last season, Ed Donatell put Tonga onto the field for 276 snaps. The DT had 28 tackles, 1 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, and 4 PDs. Not a bad stat haul when we consider the limited playing time. Oh, and PFF was impressed, ranking the young defensive tackle at 13th overall among their interior defenders (one spot ahead of Dalvin Tomlinson).

Tonga heads into 2023 making a completely unguaranteed $940,000. If he builds off the success he established last year, Tonga will be signing a much larger deal going into the 2024 season.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.