Young was largely considered the best overall prospect in this year's draft and one of the best pass-rushing prospects in the past decade. Washington drafted the DeMatha Catholic High School prospect No. 2 overall with the belief that he would bolster an already strong defensive line.
Curl, on the other hand, was one of the final picks in the 2020 NFL Draft whose resume was not known to many Washington fans. Based on where he was picked, the expectation was that he would provide depth should he make the roster at the end of training camp.
Nearly eight months later and with Washington in sole possession of the NFC East, both are starters on a defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL. They supplied both of Washington's touchdowns in a 23-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers, and with the defense hitting its stride with three games left, they are proving to be core pieces of Washington's success.
"That's where you see young guys [progressing]: when they're where they need to be," head coach Ron Rivera said after the game. "That's been great as far as Kam Curl has been concerned [and] Chase Young has been concerned. These guys, these young players…when you see that from them, that's big, and that's what we're looking for in terms of development."
Rivera said when Washington drafted Young that he felt the defensive end could not only change the defense, but also the entire team. He and defensive Jack Del Rio had been pleased with his growth, even if the stats didn't necessarily show his impact. Coming into Sunday's game, the former Ohio State Buckeye had 29 tackles, 4.5 sacks and six quarterback hits.
Both Rivera and Del Rio were adamant that more production was on the way for Young, and that day finally came against the 49ers in the form of six tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. It was an example of what Young aspires to become: a complete edge rusher.
"I feel like that's your goal for any player at any position to be just good in everything that you do," Young said. "That's what I strive to do, and that's what I'm gonna keep striving to do."
Even as a No. 2 overall pick who was predicted to change Washington's defense, Rivera said Young is having the "aha" moments that rookies have when they're learning how to play in the NFL. Young's talent is obvious, but Rivera is starting to see him understand how important it is to work in the framework of Washington's scheme.
"The things that these guys do impact the players next to them," Rivera said. "And that's one of the big things they have to understand in developing in this defense."
An example of this came on Young's touchdown. With just over a minute left in the second half, Washington's defensive line ran a stunt blitz that had Young looping into the "A" gap while Daron Payne rushed from the outside and Jon Bostic blitzed up the middle. Bostic and Payne caused Nick Mullens to fumble the ball, which was then picked up by Young and taken 47 yards to the end zone.
"All I heard was, 'Ball! Ball!' from the sideline," Young said. "I thought it was a 49ers [player] about to pick the ball up, but it was actually [Bostic] that was about to hop on it. So I just took it out of his hands. …When I picked it up, I was like, 'I can't go down. I've got to score.'"
Young's first-career touchdown gave Washington its first lead of the game. Curl's, meanwhile, helped extend it. The 49ers were lined up at Washington's 24-yard line and trailing, 16-7, with 39 seconds left in the third quarter. Curl was covering Kyle Juszczyk in the flat with his eyes on Mullens. As the pass rush crashed in on Mullens, the quarterback delivered a last-second throw to Juszczyk. Curl jumped the route for his first-career interception and sprinted down the sideline for the 76-yard score to give Washington a 23-7 lead.
"I really just knew he was going to throw it to the flat," Curl said. "He was padding it too long, and he threw it to me, so I appreciate him for that. And then I saw green grass, so I had to go."
Anyone paying attention to training camp should know Curl developed a knack for picking off passes in August. He made enough plays to make the team's initial 53-man roster, and when Landon Collins was ruled out for the year, Del Rio moved him from being the team's "Buffalo" nickel safety to the starting strong safety. Curl has recorded 45 tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hits since being the full-time starter.
"Kamren Curl is a guy that really has exceeded expectations," Rivera said Sept. 28. "It's one of those things that this is a guy that not having the workouts I think is why he slipped and was where he was when we drafted him. I think if he'd had the workouts, I think people would've saw a little bit more into him and he would've been drafted higher. So, he's a guy that we're very fortunate to have on the football team."
Curl is second on the team in tackles with 62 and second among defensive backs with 4.5 tackles for loss. The biggest difference in how he has played, Curl said, is that the game is starting to slow down for him.
"I can see more stuff," he said. "Coming in, I really didn't think the injury to Landon was going to happen. So I was thrown out in the fire, and stuff was kind of moving fast at first, but now it's slowing down for me and I'm understanding a lot."
As he continues to develop and be a pivotal piece to Washington's secondary, Curl said he just wants to make the plays that come to him.
"That's really the whole thing," Curl said. "Go out there, do your assignment, do your job and the plays will come to you."
Young and Curl are playing at their best with just three games left, and that has contributed to the defense showing flashes of the potential the unit talked about at the beginning of the year. Neither rookies are satisfied, though, and as Washington tries to strengthen its hold on the NFC East, they want to keep their heads down and keep their focus on getting the next win.
"The only thing we have to keep doing is keep going," Young said. "We just can't let up."