Large Vikings Lineman Is the Team’s Breakout Candidate

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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

The Vikings return many players on offense for the 2023 season, in fact, all but Adam Thielen to this point. There might be another change if the team decides to either trade or release Dalvin Cook.

On defense, meanwhile, a whole lot happened. Four starting cornerbacks left the team. Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, Cameron Dantzler, and Chandon Sullivan were in the starting lineup in 2022. In addition, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, linebacker Eric Kendricks, and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith will wear different jerseys in the upcoming season.

Large Vikings Lineman Is the Team’s Breakout Candidate

Because of the departures, some other players must step up in addition to the new players on the team. Free agent signings Marcus Davenport and Byron Murphy will fill two holes, and rookie Jordan Addison will replace Thielen. However, there hasn’t been a replacement for Tomlinson, but the Vikes have a breakout candidate at that position.

Large Vikings Lineman Is the Team's Breakout Candidate
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

Just over eight 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. He also started a couple of contests.

Because Tomlinson joined the Cleveland Browns, Tonga is expected to slide into the starting lineup. Profootballfocus’ Zolt├ín Buday envisions Tonga as the Vikings’ breakout star:

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.

The Vikings have an underwhelming defensive line group, so his way into the starting lineup isn’t too hard. Harrison Phillips, a 2022 free-agent addition, will be one of the starters. Everything else is up for grabs, but there are many contenders.

Nov 26, 2022; College Station, Texas, USA; LSU Tigers defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy (99) in action during the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the LSU Tigers at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.

Jonathan Bullard started last season. He signed a cheap contract and has never been more than a rotational player. James Lynch is entering his fourth campaign in Minnesota. He is a backup. The Vikings also employ the young guys Esezi Otomewo and rookie Jaquelin Roy.

Roy has a familiar pro comparison. He was compared to Dalvin Tomlinson in the pre-draft process. The defender is still a rookie and most likely needs some time to develop. Otomewo came in as a project because of a position change.

Ross Blacklock, acquired via trade last year, didn’t play well in his first season with the club and took a pay cut to stay with the team. Some of these guys might not make the roster.

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.

Tonga should be considered the favorite to start alongside Phillips in the defense coordinated by Brain Flores. The main task for defensive tackles is to stop the run and be powerful enough to take on guards and centers to help out the linebackers behind them, and he can do that at a high level. Tonga must prove now that his 2022 performance was not the result of a small sample size but his talent.


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

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