6-foot-3 corners with elite movement skills don’t grow on trees, and when it comes to Washington’s third-round pick last spring, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste looks in line to enjoy a massive breakout campaign within a defense full of expectations this fall.
A standout at the University of Minnesota, St-Juste’s rookie campaign was littered with injuries that forced him to miss eight games. Initially looked upon as the potential hybrid ‘buffalo nickel’ defender in Jack Del Rio’s defense, his prowess on the outside during his first few months donning the burgundy and gold showcased a legit corner with starter potential.
With William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller currently slotted as the Commanders’ outside stalwarts, St-Juste’s play this spring has introduced an entirely different beast for Head Coach Ron Rivera. A dominant presence working against the ones this spring in No. 16 overall pick Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, and Dyami Brown (as Terry McLaurin holds out due to contract negotiations), it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the physical boundary defender trumps Fuller to become one of the Commanders’ every-down starters on the outside.
An aggressive athlete who looks to stifle wideouts at the line of scrimmage, St-Juste was an extremely intriguing prospect out of school. A transfer from Michigan to the Golden Gophers, he was thrown into the fire of the Big Ten right away, lining up against some of the conference’s top pass-catchers week in and week out. While Minnesota isn’t known for its pipeline of secondary talent—St-Juste and Antoine Winfield Jr. represent the last tandem of secondary players to be drafted no later than the third round since 2001—St-Juste’s deep bag of traits should allow him to thrive in whatever capacity Del Rio sees fit in year two.
A Washington defensive unit headlined by their front four in Jon Allen, Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne, the influx of talent on the backend has gone overlooked. While Jackson represented the team’s prized free-agent signing last spring and Fuller—after being drafted by Washington in 2016—spent time in Kansas City before rejoining the burgundy and gold prior to the 2020 campaign, St-Juste and safety Kam Curl—one of the more underrated safeties in football—have presented Del Rio with two foundational pieces to build upon moving into future seasons. While Curl has 25 starts under his belt in two seasons and 2022 should prove to be St-Juste’s debut on the NFL stage, the two versatile talents will prove to be the glue at the ceiling of Washington’s defense if they look to challenge for a division crown.
In a day in age where teams scour every nook and cranny in ways to counter the high-octane aerial attacks of the league, players like St-Juste have become must-haves within every NFL defensive scheme. An intimidating presence with the ability to align in man opposite an ‘X’ receiver, only to slide inside over the slot, his health will remain the key component of reaching his performance ceiling. But if all comes to fruition, St-Juste has the chance to blossom into a corner to build around for years to come.