Chase Young might have been the best defensive rookie in football last season. For the Washington Football Team, Kam Curl was the biggest steal of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Curl, a seventh-round pick out of Arkansas, wasn't even guaranteed a roster spot last April. After a strong training camp, he made the final 53 to backup Pro Bowler Landon Collins.
It was in Week 7 when Curl won over the WFT fanbase following a season-ending injury to Collins. In more ways than one, the former Razorback excelled at strong safety, showing great closing speed against the run and more balance in coverage than Collins.
What will Curl's role be in 2021? That remains a mystery for now.
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"Whatever role they got for me, I can play it," Curl said. "Really, I just want to be on the field helping the team out. So when that comes, we'll cross that bridge."
Curl started in 11 games last season for WFT's defense. On his way to solidifying his worth, he recorded 88 total tackles and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
The rookie campaign showed what 31 other teams were missing when Curl was selected late on Saturday in 2020. One season though won't define a career, meaning Curl must show even more growth entering his second season in Landover.
"I feel like I'm playing faster, seeing stuff quicker, anticipating stuff more because of the experience [last year]," Curl said. "I just feel like I've been playing faster and smoother."
Collins is not a lock to return to the starting lineup Week 1 against Los Angeles. Should he need time to recover from the torn Achilles, Curl will likely get the nod to start.
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If Collins is healthy, the battle at free safety becomes interesting. Washington added veteran Bobby McCain following the NFL Draft. They also drafted the do-it-all defender Darrick Forrest out of Cincinnati.
Forrest's tackling skills will make him an early contributor on special teams and dime packages.
Versatility will help keep Curl in the mix for a starting role this season. When drafted, both Jack Del Rio and Ron Rivera loved the versatility he possessed coming out of Fayetteville.
With the Razorbacks, Curl saw snaps at both safety positions and inside at nickel corner. Del Rio has not ruled out Curl's services in big nickel sets or three-safety formations.
“He fits wherever we put him and he’s done a great job of that," Del Rio said. "He played multiple positions last year and really had a fine year. We expect him to continue to be who he is."
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Curl received high praise from Collins for filling in as a rookie. For now, the fellow SEC alum will likely keep his starting role due to a six-year, $84 million contract.
Del Rio stated that Collins likely will be playing more towards the line of scrimmage.
Curl might not be a "starter" to begin the season, but expect him to see plenty of snaps before the season's end at more than one position.
"He’s bright and a good football player and makes good football decisions on the field," Del Rio said. "He communicates well with his teammates. We just want our guys to work. Put in the work and develop. Roles will be determined. Right now the focus is how we do things, where you’re expected to be and get there and play fast."
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