Young Vikings Defender Listed as Breakout Candidate for 2023
Every year, players unexpectedly emerge from NFL rosters to take on huge roles with their respective teams. The Vikings aren’t immune to such impact.
Think back to 2021 when Minnesota signed Dede Westbrook to try and take on the WR3 role behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Instead, it was K.J. Osborn who took over the job and has held it ever since.
Just as recently as 2022, the Vikings signed CB Duke Shelley to their practice squad during the season, and just a few weeks later, he was suddenly making crucial plays in overtime against the Buffalo Bills.
This week, Zoltán Buday of Pro Football Focus took on the task of trying to figure out which players would be breakout contributors for each of the 16 NFC teams in 2023. For Minnesota, he chose young Vikings defender Khyiris Tonga, who is entering his second year with the team. Here is what Buday had to say of Tonga’s role in Minnesota this year:
The Vikings brought the third-year defensive lineman back on a team-friendly one-year deal, but he is expected to play a big role on the Minnesota defense as a starting interior defender.
While he only played 300 snaps for the Vikings in 2022, he carved out a role as their top interior run defender. His 73.3 run-defense grade ranked 16th among interior defenders, and the former seventh-round pick can take another leap in his first full season as a starter in 2023.
Tonga originally ended up in Minnesota last October after being waived by the Chicago Bears prior to the regular season’s start. After spending about a month on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, Tonga was signed by the Vikings to help shore up their defensive line.
Almost immediately, Tonga took on a role with the Vikings defense, playing 16 defensive snaps in their Week 8 game against the Arizona Cardinals. In all, Tonga played 11 regular season games with Minnesota (including two starts in Weeks 17 and 18), and he recorded 28 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and half a sack.
This spring, Tonga signed a new team-friendly contract to remain in Minnesota for one year that is worth a total of $940,000.
With Dalvin Tomlinson no longer on the roster, the Vikings certainly need someone to help create stability on the interior of the defensive line in his absence. Perhaps Tonga can be that guy.
The Vikings defender will turn 27 years old on July 7th.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.