Vikings Defender Is Ready to Be a Star

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Some overlooked defenders must step up for the Vikings to improve their defense.

The unit ranked 31st in yards and 30th in points allowed. If that level of play were repeated, it would undoubtedly prevent the team from competing, no matter how well the offense plays. The decision-makers parted ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and more than half of the defensive starters.

Vikings Defender Is Ready to Be a Star

Vikings Defender Is Ready To Be a Star
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The most significant departures on the defensive side of the ball were Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, and Patrick Peterson. The latter two are well past their prime and had to be replaced sooner rather than later. Tomlinson, on the other hand, is a fantastic player, and the Vikes will miss him in the upcoming season.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah didn’t sign a free agent to replace him. The only signing on the defensive line is Dean Lowry, who is a different player type. Jaquelin Roy joined the team via the draft, and the fifth-rounder is progressing well.

The top candidate to supersede Tomlinson, however, is Khyiris Tonga. Signed halfway through the 2022 season, the defensive lineman had an excellent season. Another big jump is foreseen, especially in terms of opportunities in the form of snaps. Alex Kay from Bleacher Report named one player at each position who is ready to be a star and guess who his choice was at defensive tackle.

The door is open for Khyiris Tonga to emerge as one of the NFL’s top interior defenders. With Dalvin Tomlinson out of the picture, the unheralded nose tackle has a major opportunity to capitalize on a big increase in playing time with the Minnesota Vikings.

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. He finished the campaign having logged 36 percent of the defensive and 17 percent of the special teams snaps in those contests. While the BYU product’s stat line doesn’t jump off the page—he recorded 28 tackles and a half-sack—he earned a commendable 77.9 PFF grade for his quality run-stuffing efforts and sneaky ability to create pressure.

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.

Alex Kay
Only 1 Surprise in
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The defensive line is one of the weakest parts of the Vikings roster, and they need someone to make a significant jump. Tonga could be that guy, as he showed enormous promise last season in limited snaps.

Just over nine months ago, defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga didn’t make the Bears’ 53-man roster and had to accept a spot on the Falcons’ practice squad. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed the large human being to the active roster in October.

Tonga was inactive in the first two games, in matchups against the Bears and the Dolphins, and made his Vikings debut in Week 8 against the Cardinals, where he pressured quarterback Kyler Murray to force an interception. He ended up playing in 12 games for the Vikings and started a couple of contests.

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His contract expired, and he became a free agent, but the Vikings made sure to bring him back. It was one of the first offseason moves. Tonga is now under contract for one more season on a cap hit of $940,000 before he will be a restricted free agent next year. He can break the bank if he continues to play at a high level.

Tonga is considered the favorite to start alongside Phillips in the new defensive unit led by Brian Flores. Having a couple of decent and beefy defensive tackles would go a long way in the necessary defensive overhaul.

A good omen for Tonga is that offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw was named the offensive lineman to explode into stardom in 2022, and he certainly fulfilled that.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt