The Minnesota Vikings have a new big man in the building.
“The #Vikings are signing nose tackle Khyiris Tonga off the #Falcons’ practice squad, per source,” NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweeted on October 4. Tonga could take a roster spot in place of rookie safety Lewis Cine, who was placed on the injured reserve list following a lower leg fracture last Sunday against the Saints in London.
Eden Prairie native Ryan Connelly was also activated off the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list, while practice-squad defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman and wide receiver Travis Toivonen were released, per a team release.
Khyiris Tonga Becomes the Biggest Vikings Player on the Roster
Listed at 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, Tonga becomes the heaviest player on the Vikings roster, a spot formerly held by defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson.
Tonga, a 2021 seventh-round pick by the Chicago Bears, appeared in 15 games as a rookie, making two starts and playing 217 defensive snaps. Tonga had 24 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 QB pressure. He posted a 52.1 Pro Football Focus (PFF) defensive grade last season with six missed tackles being the biggest bane to his rookie performance.
Tonga was waived during final roster cuts this year before being signed to the Falcons practice squad shortly after.
A three-year starter at BYU, Tonga tallied 8.5 sacks, 16 total tackles for loss, and 12 pass breakups in four seasons. He proved dominant in college, possessing great strength. He fell to the seventh round as an older tackle at the age of 26.
The Athletic’s Dan Brugler graded Tonga the 16th best defensive tackle in the 2021 draft class.
” An aggressive space-eater, Tonga is active in the trenches with his slanting quickness and upper-body strength to shed/toss blockers,” Brugler wrote in his 2021 draft guide. “He improved his conditioning and chase skills over the years, but his pad level and anchor need to develop better consistency. Overall, Tonga will face limitations on third down in the NFL, but he is powerful with his hands and creates congestion at the line of scrimmage.
Tonga lacks great length or athleticism, but he does have the size to fill gaps in the run defense — an area that needs some serious addressing by the Vikings.
Tonga Could Help Improve Vikings Run Defense
Through four games, Minnesota has surrendered an average of 131 yards per game on the ground, ranking 22nd in that category. While the NFL is a passing league, stopping the run can make an offense one-dimensional, making stopping the pass an easier feat.
The Vikings have deployed Harrison Phillips as the team’s starting nose tackle in the new 3-4 defensive scheme that puts stopping the run at the forefront of the nose tackle’s priorities along with the other two down linemen.
Phillips, at 307 pounds, has served well, boasting a 72.6 run defense grade by PFF, however, keeping the undersized nose tackle fresh will be tantamount to his success, especially late in the season.
Adding another big body who can plug in on obvious run-first situations appears to be the M.O. by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Tonga joins a defensive line room that includes Tomlinson, Phillips, Jonathan Bullard, James Lynch, Ross Blacklock, and rookie Esezi Otomewo. Other than Phillips, none of those players are true nose tackles, putting Tonga on the fast track to backing up Phillips.