Don't sleep on Donovan Kaufman.
Auburn's do-it-all defensive back had a few extremely impressive numbers in 2021. Now that he's finally had a full offseason on the Plains, what's next for the NOLA native?
DB Donovan Kaufman (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
He won’t get any preseason All-SEC love. He won’t even crack the top 10 of the “most valuable Tigers” lists you see floating around this time of the year1. For a returning starter, he doesn’t get talked about quite as much as the other veterans on defense.
But you shouldn’t overlook Donovan Kaufman — not after the debut season he had at Auburn, and especially not for what he means to the Tigers’ defense as a whole.
At first glance, Kaufman’s numbers from the 2021 season might not look like much. He was ninth on the team in total tackles (34), 13th in tackles for loss (2.0) and tied for seventh in passes broken up (2). According to Pro Football Focus, he had the 14th-most defensive snaps on the team, ranking seventh among defensive backs.
Dig a little deeper, though, and some interesting stats pop out for the former Vanderbilt safety. Kaufman missed just two tackles all season, giving him a missed tackle rate of just 5.4% — the lowest of anyone on the team with more than five tackles2.
Kaufman also only committed one penalty all season. Only edge rusher and fellow 2021 transfer Eku Leota had that low of an amount for any Tiger defender who registered at least 250 snaps3.
Auburn didn’t use Kaufman as a blitzing pass-rusher a ton last season, as he only went after the quarterback on 11 snaps. But, of those 11 snaps, he recorded one sack and three hurries — a pass-rushing win rate of more than 36%.
And, perhaps most impressively, Kaufman forced three fumbles during the course of the 2022 season. Since 20054, only four other Auburn players have forced at least three fumbles in a season: Zakoby McClain in 2019, Jeff Holland in 2017, Kris Frost in 2014 and Quentin Groves in 2006.
As you might have realized by now, Kaufman is the only defensive back in that list. For a 5-foot-10, 205-pounder, Kaufman is a real force at making impact plays.
All of those noteworthy numbers came for Kaufman in a short amount of time at Auburn. In 2020, he was a prized 4-star pickup for Vanderbilt out of powerhouse program Archbishop Rummel in New Orleans. Kaufman played in two games before missing the rest of a COVID-impacted season for the Commodores.
Kaufman went through spring practices in 2021 under new Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea but decided to transfer in the summer. He landed at Auburn, which had his former head coach Derek Mason on staff as the defensive coordinator. Kaufman went through fall camp and quickly left it as a starter.
Some injury issues kept him from playing a complete 2021 season on the Plains, which makes his 2022 campaign even more intriguing. He’s finally had a full offseason of work at one place, and he still hasn’t put together a complete college campaign yet.
“Experience is always better,” Kaufman said earlier this year. “I still feel like I haven’t had a full season. This is going to be my first full year. I’m excited about it. I’m really trying to make this my last year and end with a natty.”
Oh, and did anything change for Kaufman once Mason left the program for Oklahoma State during a trouble-filled winter for Auburn?
“Not really,” Kaufman said. “I love Auburn. It was different at Vandy, it was harder. I enjoy Auburn. I actually love being here.”