The NFL is full of young, talented defensive players, but according to Pro Football Focus, the best plays for the Washington Commanders.
Kamren Curl, who has a 91.0 overall grade from PFF three years into his career, was recently named by the analytics website as the highest graded 25 years old or younger in the NFL. Curl, 23, beat out Maxx Crosby (90.6), Micah Parsons (90.5), Jack Jones (90.4) and Jeffery Simmons (90.0) to claim the top spot.
"There's a familiarity with Kam's play. He's a guy that can give you a little bit of presence in the box as well," said head coach Ron Rivera. "He's a nice sized body, very physical football player, very smart football player, very heads up guy, communicates very well out there, too."
Commanders fans should not be surprised by Curl's grade. From the time he was drafted with the 216th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Curl has impressed his coaches with his comprehension of the defense as well as his versatility in the scheme.
"He's a cerebral player," defensive backs coach Chris Harris said of Curl. "He's very intelligent, and you have to be in order to play multiple positions. We could stick Kam at nickel, we could stick Kam at free. We could stick Kam at strong, we can stick Kam down in the box to play dime."
Curl made a lasting impression during his rookie season with 88 tackles to go with four pass breakups, three interceptions -- one of which was returned for a touchdown -- and two sacks. In 2021, Curl was even more productive in the run game, as he finished second on the team with 99 tackles.
Curl's third season was impacted by surgery on his thumb, forcing him to miss the first two games of the season. That has not stopped Curl from leading all safeties with an 84.5 overall grade from PFF.
"He's had a kind of a calming influence on the group," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He's so reliable and his communication is so strong."
Rivera said that Curl's communication brings "a whole different ball game" to the defense, and since his return, the unit has gradually improved. Heading into Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Commanders are 13th in total defense and allow the second lowest third down conversion rate in the NFL.
While he might not be as well-known as other members of Washington's defense, his value is just as important to its success.
"A guy like him, you're excited to have around because he's really like a Swiss Army knife," Harris said.