The 2023 NFL season is rapidly approaching, though not as rapidly as any of us might want it to (obviously). With the Minnesota Vikings looking to improve on defense from their rough performance in 2022, one website has identified a member of last year’s defense as a potential breakout candidate for 2023.
Pro Football Focus has identified one “breakout candidate” for each NFC team, and their selection for the Vikings is big Khyiris Tonga. Here’s what they have to say about him:
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 was a seventh-round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2021 NFL Draft out of BYU. Last season, he somehow was deemed not good enough to make the Bears’ roster and wound up with the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah scooped him up from there and, as you can see from the PFF description, he immediately helped to provide some solid run support despite getting limited playing time.
With Dalvin Tomlinson having departed for Cleveland and the starting spots alongside Harrison Phillips on the Vikings’ defensive line up for grabs, it would be pretty surprising if Tonga was not one of the primary options up front for the team this season. He has the size (6’4” and a cheeseburger short of 340 pounds) to be an outstanding run-stuffer for the Vikings, which is something they have a big-time need for. He managed to provide some interior pressure in pass defense, too, which is a nice bonus.
Hopefully this prediction will come to fruition for the Vikings as their defensive rebuild gets underway in earnest.