A Viking Who Could ‘Explode into Stardom’

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. (8) carries the ball as Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) looks on during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

Jordan Addison? Andrew Booth? Brian Asamoah?

Nope. Those men aren’t on the menu as budding stars in 2023, at least not according to Bleacher Report.

A Viking Who Could ‘Explode into Stardom’

BR’s Alex Kay outlined 10 players who will ‘explode into stardom’ this season, and somehow, Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga made the cut.

A Viking Who Could
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

Tonga is tentatively scheduled to take over Dalvin Tomlinson’s job in 2023, although 2.5 months worth of training camp and preseason must still determine the prediction. Tomlinson left the Vikings in March for the lure of the Cleveland Browns four-year, $57 million contract.

Accordingly, someone must fill the Vikings nose tackle duties in September, and Bleacher Report believes that will be Tonga — with a star-studded forecast.

Vikings Keep Free Agent Defender in the Building
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.

Kay explained, “The door is open for Khyiris Tonga to emerge as one of the NFL’s top interior defenders. Few could have projected the impact that Tonga would make last year. After getting signed off the Atlanta Falcons practice squad in October, he went on to appear in the final 11 games of the season played an unexpectedly sizable role.”

Tonga played 276 defensive snaps in 2022 and earned the ranking of Pro Football Focus’ 13th-best interior lineman with a 77.8 grade. And for perspective, nobody in the Vikings fan orbit knew who Tonga was at this time last year.

Nov 8, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Chicago Bears defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga (95) on the sidelines of the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports.

“Tonga could now earn a starting nose tackle job alongside Harrison Phillips in the defensive trenches. The powerful 6’4″, 338-pounder can move mountains with his strength and will help shore up a defense that was amongst the league’s most vulnerable in 2022. If he can perform at the same level or better than he did last year with a bigger workload, Tonga will be a star-in-the-making,” Kay concluded.

If Kay’s prophecy is accurate, Tonga will become one of the NFL’s top-value players, too. He signed a contract extension a few months ago worth $940,000 — an unabashed bargain for a potential starter and utter dream for a could-be star.

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) and Washington Commanders wide receiver Dax Milne (15) exchange jerseys after their game at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Last month, PFF’s Zolt├ín Buday labeled Tonga a ‘breakout candidate.’ He wrote, “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,”

Therefore, either several folks are wrong about Tonga’s ceiling — or the Vikings are about to experience a rather incognito star in the making.

Tonga turns 27 in three weeks.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.