A hybrid pass rusher with experience at defensive lineman, outside linebacker and tight end has landed a futures deal with the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers announced Friday the signing of Bronson Kaufusi, a 2016 third-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens, to a reserve/future contract for the 2021 season, becoming the fourth outside talent to lock in a place on Green Bay’s next offseason roster. The Packers had hosted him for a visit on Monday along with former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Breeland Speaks.
At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Kaufusi certainly comes with the stature of a defensive lineman, but his speed and athleticism have seen him favored as an outside linebacker/edge rusher throughout his fifth-year NFL career. The same tools motivated the New York Jets to convert him into a tight end for the 2020 season, giving credence to his versatility.
Whether the Packers will be more interested in him as a blocking tight end or a pass rusher remains to be seen, but they would have motivations to explore either spot. The Packers’ top blocking tight end, Marcedes Lewis, is due to become a free agent this spring, while good pass-rushing depth can be tough to find.
Kaufusi now joins a group of Packers futures players that includes wide receiver Chris Blair, defensive back Innis Gaines and linebacker Ray Wilborn.
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Kaufusi Earned Early-Round Reputation
Kaufusi had already been pegged as a versatile player before getting drafted in 2016, having played at both defensive lineman and linebacker during his four years at BYU. He also played 20 games for BYU’s men’s basketball team as a freshman in 2012-13, further showing off his athleticism as a disruptive frontlines defender.
While Kaufusi lacked some speed and explosiveness, the Ravens were still sold on his depth potential for their roster and took him with the No. 70 overall pick, adding him to a deep group of edge rushers that, at the time, still included veteran Terrell Suggs and current Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short when he broke his ankle in training camp and missed his entire rookie season.
While Kaufusi was able to win a job as a backup defensive end in his return in 2017, he only saw the field in three games and finished with five total tackles, getting cut the following preseason and spending most of the next three seasons with the Jets. He has recorded a total of eight tackles, two quarterback hits and half of a sack through nine career games on defense.
Packers Attempted DL-TE Convert in 2019
Technically, Kaufusi arrives in Green Bay listed as a tight end, but the position switch didn’t buy him any active-roster opportunities over his last year in New York, so it is difficult to say whether Kaufusi has any interest in remaining on offense. Still, it wasn’t so long ago the Packers had attempted a similar move with a deep-roster talent.
Last December, the Packers switched 6-foot-3, 287-pound James Looney from defensive lineman to tight end in an odd move that head coach Matt LaFleur came about because of Looney’s strong work on special teams. (Interestingly enough, the Jets gave nearly the same reason for converting Kaufusi to tight end). The experiment didn’t pay off for Looney and the Packers, as he was released before the 2020 season, but maybe a higher-graded talent can fulfill their vision for such a player.