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The 5 O’Clock Club: Is Kamren Curl 2020’s Matt Ioannidis?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Football Team v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Matt Ioannidis

My favorite Washington player over the past few seasons has been interior defensive lineman, Matt Ioannidis. The former Temple Owl was drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 draft, and has played with comparable skill and passion to the first rounders, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, that he shares the field with. One of the great roster moves the franchise has made in recent years was to extend Ioannidis in 2019 for a further 3 years, keeping him under contract through 2022, when he will be 28 years old. This is successful drafting and roster management.

Ioan-man can play multiple positions on the DL; he has quickness, but is primarily known for his incredible strength. Here’s how Fansided described the defensive lineman when his extension was announced last year:

Ioannidis is a jack-of-all-trades, except he’s one that does everything exceptionally well. He’s not the depth piece Washington was expecting, but a legitimate problem for opposing offenses. Ioannidis also fits in perfectly with the Redskins defense. He keeps their young core together and helps to create an immovable defensive line that will only continue to grow and get better as a unit.

Ioannidis suffered a torn bicep in Week 3 and is out for the season, but his expected return in 2021 should contribute to Washington’s continued defensive dominance next year. While he is out, I’ve had to search for a substitute “favorite player”.

I’ve loved the play of a lot of guys on the roster in 2020, but on the defensive side of the ball, this year’s version of Matt Ioannidis seems to be Kamren Curl.

Kamren Curl

Washington was able to draft Curl in the 7th round of the 2020 draft, and it’s been suggested that this was only possible because of the lack of a normal assessment process due to COVID. With limited pro days, personal visits and the like, Curl managed to fly largely under the radar of NFL scouts despite being invited to the February combine.

NFL Combine - Day 4 Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Similar to Matt Ioannidis, Curl has great positional flexibility. In late October, when Landon Collins was healthy, Chris Harris, the defensive backs coach, was talking about the flexibility that Curl brought to the DB unit:

Kam’s a rookie who came in and is a pretty sharp individual...[who] has the mental capacity to learn multiple positions like he did. He was playing some nickel, playing safety — he was getting an opportunity. we were playing a bigger nickel package than earlier on in the season versus some of those teams that are trying to give you a lot of motions and trying to get your nickel in a spot to have to fit runs.

To have a bigger body was a reason to get Kam in there. He did a wonderful job in that role. I’m excited about his development. He’s got the tools to be able to play in our big nickel package when he’s outside and also to play back deep or at strong safety. His versatility is one of the things that I really like about him.

In the first half of the season, Kamren Curl played regularly, but on a limited basis, averaging about 29 snaps per game for the games when he was healthy.

That changed after the Week 8 bye due to Landon Collins’ torn Achilles, suffered in the Week 7 victory against the Cowboys. From Week 9 onward, Curl played a huge proportion of the defensive snaps, averaging roughly 66 snaps per game.

At the time of Landon Collins’ injury, it was widely anticipated that Ron Rivera and the coaching staff would opt to sign free agent strong safety Eric Reid, who had played for Rivera in Carolina. At the time, Rivera passed on offering Reid a spot on the 53-man roster, and said that Curl’s outstanding play was one of the reasons:

I...didn’t want to bring [Eric Reid] in right away and have him sitting in front of KamCurl. I thought Kam did a nice job last week. Kam has done a great job for us in our nickel package — what we call theBuffalo position — and I wanted to see what he [can continue] to do as well.

Coach Rivera’s faith has been rewarded. Kamren Curl, the 7th round draft pick, has played an essential role in the season’s second half surge led by Washington’s defensive unit. He has started and starred in eight games, and has been putting up highlight performances.

Big first half interception against the Panthers

Pick Six against the 49ers

Sacking Matt Stafford:

Sacking Daniel Jones:

Two talented rookies - Chase Young and Kam Curl

One guy that takes a unique approach to breaking down NFL film is Brian Baldinger. Baldy’s Breakdowns are really a bit like a steam-of-consciousness running commentary from a fan with a clicker who gets to watch his favorite plays over and over. Baldinger doesn’t so much explain the X’s and O’s as call attention to specific actions by specific players, usually with unbridled enthusiasm or criticism, depending on whether he loves or hates what he is seeing.

Have a look and listen to how enthusiastic he is and what he has to say about Chase Young and Kamren Curl here:

To hear Brian Baldinger tell it, the two most valuable players on the Washington defense — a defense filled with special players for whom he has had a lot of praise in 2020 — are Chase Young and Kamren Curl.

And they’re both rookies!

Of course, every NFL fan alive knows who Chase Young is, but we Washington fans should be enjoying what we’re getting treated to weekly in Kamren Curl, because, as Baldy says, he’s something special.

The fact that Washington drafted him in the 7th round is just the whipped cream and cherry topping.

Chase Young is the betting favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kamren Curl is playing at a very high level as well, but nobody other than Washington fans knows who he is.

So, am I overstating Curl’s accomplishments? Is this just “homerism” in action?

I don’t think so.

Comparing Curl to another DROY candidate

I mentioned above that Chase Young is the betting favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Most people seem to have the Panthers’ S/LB Jeremy Chinn ranked second, or at least in the top-5 for the award.

How does S/CB Kamren Curl stack up against the much higher-profile S/LB Jeremy Chinn?

Here’s a chart to compare them statistically:

All statistics and grades in this chart from Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus

Obviously, Chinn has been a starter for the Panthers since Week 1, missing one game due to injury, while Curl played part-time for the first 7 games and full-time for the next 8. Surprisingly, with 200+ fewer snaps, Curl’s statistics are generally comparable to Chinn’s.

  • Clearly, Chinn has more aggregate tackles for the season to date, but when that metric is adjusted to tackles per 100 snaps, it turns out that Curl is actually slightly ahead of Chinn.
  • Curl has been more successful in tackles for loss, sacks and interceptions, while Chinn has distinguished himself with forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries.
  • While Kam Curl has a touchdown scored on a pick-6 against the 49ers, Chinn scored touchdowns on two back-to-back plays against the Vikings in which he forced the fumble, scooped and scored.
  • Finally, you can see that Curl has played penalty-free ball in 2020 while three flags have been tossed against Jeremy Chinn, and Curl has achieved higher PFF grades than Chinn on all 4 of the defensive categories shown here.

My point here isn’t to argue that Kamren Curl is a better player than Jeremy Chinn or that Curl should be in the running for DROY. My intent is to highlight Curl’s statistical production, which stacks up very well beside one of the top candidates for the DROY award.

Kamren Curl is playing football at a high level — certainly far beyond what can reasonably be expected of a 7th round draft pick in his rookie season. To me, Curl’s statistical production is merely confirmation of what everyone can see on the field — Kamren Curl is playing at a high level. In fact, PFF has him ranked 20th of 91 qualifying players (min 300 snaps), and he is the highest-graded rookie safety — ahead of Antoine Winfield Jr., Justin Blackmon, and Jeremy Chinn, all three of whom are among the favorites in the DROY voting.

Looking at the top rookies listed above, Dugger, Winfield, and Chinn were all selected in the second round, while Blackmon, Jones, and Davis were taken in the 3rd. Only Fuller, the 6th best rookie safety according to PFF, and Curl managed to slip through till Day 3 of the draft. For Kamren Curl to perform at such a high level — #1 among rookie safeties according to PFF — after lasting until the final round of the 2020 draft seems almost unbelievable.

I’m not sure how to explain why Kamren Curl dropped so far in the draft except to suggest that, maybe, the league done messed up while Kyle Smith and Ron Rivera got it right.


How good is Kamren Curl?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Definitely the best rookie safety of 2020, and he’s already good enough to start for half the teams in the league.
    (837 votes)
  • 18%
    He’s good, and I’m glad we drafted him, but this article is over-hyping him. He’d be a backup this season if Washington had a better/healthier roster.
    (187 votes)
  • 0%
    Over the course of his career, he’ll probably prove to be a backup DB/special teams player.
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    He’s a 7th rounder who’s getting to play because he’s on a bad team. He’ll be out of the league or a perennial practice squad player before his rookie contract finishes.
    (5 votes)
1032 votes total Vote Now