Khyiris Tonga is one of the more intriguing interior defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL draft class. He possesses awesome physical strength, above-average move skills, and the versatility to be shifted across the line of scrimmage.
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Name: Khyiris Tonga
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 321 lbs
Core Strength (4/5)
Tonga’s game is built on raw power. He produces a formidable initial push and keeps his feet moving after engaging with his blocker. Tonga’s strongest whenever he plays in a straight line. There aren’t many he can’t put on skates once he gets his massive frame moving forward.
Like any aggressive interior mauler, Tonga is at his most disruptive when he keeps his pads low. Getting underneath the arms of a center is no problem for him, and Tonga sets his feet well once he slams his hands into a blocker’s chest. Launching from a low and strong base makes Tonga close to impossible to shift in one-on-one blocking matchups, especially in the running game.
Tonga generally lines up well, but he can be guilty of leaning too far forward. He’ll often drop his head when taking on a blocker. Rather than launching from a low base and striking upward, Tonga leans and can lose balance.
The same problem surfaces whenever Tonga keeps his legs too straight. Consistently bending his knees would help him anchor more effectively. Keeping his head up after the snap is an obvious coaching point. It might also be worth letting Tonga align as a tilted or cocked nose tackle at the next level, allowing him to turn into gaps and overcome his issues from a two-point stance.
Hands Usage (2.5/5)
Tonga doesn’t have a full range of moves with his hands. That’s partly because he can win so often with straight-ahead, brute force. What he needs to do is develop some hand speed and a broader range of swat and swim moves. That won’t be easy with a limited reach from 31-inch arms, but Tonga must add more variety to how he sheds blockers.
Lateral Quickness (2/5)
If he’s left to play in a phone booth, Tonga will dominate the line of scrimmage. What he won’t do is slide across the line or shed blockers quickly to make plays in space. Tonga’s game gets predictable without greater range, making it easier for blocking schemes to render him a non-factor.
Being such an imposing physical specimen means Tonga doesn’t always need to read on the run. He can simply trust his natural strength to wreck a play. Fortunately, though, Tonga does have decent recognition skills.
His knowledge comes from BYU moving him all over the line. He’s played head-up over the center, as a shaded zero-technique on the outside shoulders of a pivot man, and even as a two-technique directly over a guard.
Tonga keeps his head up and his eyes alert to the stances of the linemen in front of him. He identifies pass and run sets and is also aware of counter action and wham blocking from pulling guards and tight ends in motion.
This play against Utah in 2018 is an excellent example of what happens when Tonga combines core strength with recognition.
Far from just being a magnet for double teams, Tonga showcased a healthy flair for making plays during his collegiate career. He logged 8.5 sacks and 130 combined tackles, including 16 for loss during four seasons with the Cougars. Those are solid numbers and evidence of a defensive tackle who spends a good amount of time playing behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced a pair of fumbles and batted down 12 passes. This is a lineman rarely far from the ball.
A swift takeoff and the power to force his blockers in the wrong direction means Tonga can be a force against both the run and pass. These two plays against Coastal Carolina back in December highlight how disruptive Tonga can be in both phases.
Another strong bull rush pic.twitter.com/ccf7u6n4c7
— Sam Penix (@Sam_Penix) April 20, 2021
The versatility to play multiple spots, as well as that imposing bull rush, could keep Tonga on the field all three downs at the pro level. His Rugby background imbued him with an attacking mentality. He’s not merely interested in keeping blockers off linebackers. Tonga wants to make plays himself.
Consistency is the biggest concern. While there are flashes of dominance, Tonga didn’t put it all together often enough in college. He’d go from toying with a center and guard one week to be being routinely blown off the ball the next. His struggles against San Diego State summed up Tonga’s erratic performances.
So… I was doing my scouting report on BYU DT Khyiris Tonga (who I like a lot), and William Dunkle just cleared my dude OUT over and over when BYU faced San Diego State. https://t.co/LIhnxpN0Fo
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) April 10, 2021
Those concerns can be offset by his experience. Tonga played in 47 games and his production rarely waned as a four-year starter.
Tonga’s got potential as a late-round steal. His consistency is a question mark, but few prospects can match his raw power and natural flexibility. A shrewd NFL defensive coordinator will put those traits to use in a multiple-front scheme that allows Tonga to move around and target weak blockers.
Final Grade (25.5/40): Day Three Pick
Player Comp: Star Lotulelei
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images