2 Vikings Players Tabbed for Breakout Seasons

A Lovable Success Story
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings players celebrate after an interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) against the Washington Commanders during the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Upcoming roster battles will dominate your Minnesota Vikings-themed discussions — for about the next three months — as 90 men vie for a final group of 53.

Comparatively, the Vikings don’t have a ton of big-name position competitions, but for those who follow the team intensely, some areas of the roster are more contentious than others.

2 Vikings Players Tabbed for Breakout Seasons

And among the summer depth-chart jousts, two men should be victorious at their positions and effectuate some fancy forecasts — LB Brian Asamoah and DT Khyiris Tonga. Separately, Bleacher Report identified Asamoah as a ‘best-kept secret’ recently, while Tonga was deemed a possible breakout performer by Pro Football Focus.

Here’s why.

Brian Asamoah

Almost by default, the second-year inside linebacker will get a crack at stardom. Minnesota released Eric Kendricks at the start of free agency, and he latched onto his old-stomping-ground part of the country, with the Los Angeles Chargers. Kendricks played college ball at UCLA and will now start for the Chargers in 2023.

Because no high-profile linebackers were signed in free agency or drafted by Minnesota, a starting job should belong to the 23-year-old Asamoah.

Tabbed for Breakout
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) in action against the Detroit Lions during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine labeled one player from every team a ‘best-kept secret’ last weekend, and Asamoah has the baton for Minnesota. “The Vikings obviously have some faith that Asamoah will be able to step into a starting role this season. They released Kendricks and only signed Troy Reeder, a soon-to-be 29-year-old who was a reserve linebacker for the Chargers last year, to replace him,” Ballentine wrote.

It's Officially Brian Asamoah Time
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) leaps over the celebration pile late during the fourth quarter after an interception by safety Camryn Bynum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Asamoah played 119 defensive snaps as a rookie and 285 special teams plays.

Ballentine added, “Asamoah is going to get every opportunity to take a starting role, and he flashed the ability to be an asset for the Vikings defense last season.”

The Oklahoma alumnus has the physical toolkit for the job and will start alongside veteran Jordan Hicks unless Vikings training camp gets weird and undrafted free agent Ivan Pace Jr. steals somebody’s job.

Khyiris Tonga

Vikings fans might know this man a little more intimately because he played 276 defensive snaps last year — or about 25% of the time. In that sample, Tonga was graded as the league’s 13th-best interior defensive lineman, according to PFF, with a 77.8 grade. Meanwhile, Dalvin Tomlinson left Minnesota for the Cleveland Browns in March, so Tonga should be on deck for Tomlinson’s job if all goes smoothly.

Only 1 Surprise in
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

PFF’s Zoltán Buday, like Bleacher Report, combed each NFL team for best-kept secrets — he called such players breakout candidates — and Tonga was the guy for the purple and gold.

“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,” Buday explained.

Tonga isn’t totally guaranteed to start in 2023, but he is the biggest-bodied run stuffer on Brian Flores’ defensive roster, making it slightly strange if somebody else filled the Tomlinson void.

“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,” Buday concluded.

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.

Tonga remained with the Vikings this offseason for one year and $940,000. If he replicates his 2022 production for a 17-game span, his contract will be considered one of the top values in the business.

Minnesota ranked 30th in points allowed last year.

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.