What began as a season of hopeful beginnings regressed mightily for Ravens defensive end Bronson Kaufusi. After his rookie year was wiped out by a broken left ankle suffered Aug. 4, 2016, Kaufusi was expected to demonstrate the promise he had shown at Brigham Young, where he graduated with the fifth-most sacks (26½) and had 11 sacks, 64 tackles and 20 tackles for loss in his senior year.
Instead, Kaufusi, 6 feet 6, 285 pounds, was inactive for a team-high 13 games in 2017, including the last nine. He finished with zero sacks and only four tackles, but the organization’s third-round draft pick in 2016 chose not to blame anyone but himself for his reduced playing time.
“For me, I should have made the most of the opportunities that I was given,” he said last week. “I just tried to get better every week, and I felt like I did. From the beginning to now, I was inactive for a lot of the year, but each week, I felt like I was getting better. So going into the offseason, I’ve got to be ready for the next opportunity.”
Listed as the backup to starter Brent Urban, Kaufusi appeared to be in line for greater involvement after Urban suffered a Lisfranc foot injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 24 and was lost for the rest of the season. Kaufusi started the next game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was a healthy scratch the following week at the Oakland Raiders before backing up rookie Chris Wormley against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 15 and the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 22. Eventually, Carl Davis leapfrogged both as the starter.
Kaufusi acknowledged feeling upset by his inability to crack the starting lineup after his season debut against Pittsburgh.
“It’s always frustrating, but that’s how the game works, and you don’t want to waste time being frustrated because you can get lost in there,” he said. “So for me, it’s, ‘What can I do next?’ I’m going to do what I can control to get better.”
Kaufusi’s lack of progress has bothered some fans, who have criticized the organization on social media for not trading its first- and third-round picks in 2016 to the Dallas Cowboys for the chance to select Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey — who was chosen by the Jaguars at No. 5, one spot before the Ravens took left tackle Ronnie Stanley — earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last month at cornerback and will play Sunday against the Steelers in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
The franchise is not likely willing to give up on Kaufusi, whose rookie contract runs through 2019. But he said he understands that the onus is on him to spend the offseason improving his game and proving to the coaches that he can contribute.
“I want to do whatever I can and whatever they want to see so that I can be out there,” he said. “So that’s what I’m excited about — the upcoming opportunity. The upcoming year starts today. So I just want to make every day count.”