* With training camp just around the corner, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux takes a look at one burning question for each position group on Washington's roster. Next up: cornerback.
What impact will cornerback Benjamin St-Juste have as a rookie?
On Day Two of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Washington Football Team had a pair of third-round picks just eight selections apart. The latter choice was used on North Carolina wideout Dyami Brown, whose skill set and speed immediately excited Washington fans.
While Brown did show flashes throughout minicamp, it was Washington's other third-round pick that truly turned some heads. That would be cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, whose combination of size (6-foot-3, 200 lbs) and speed could see him playing a lot of snaps for Washington.
Since taking over as head coach, Ron Rivera has preached positional versatility in Washington. When the Burgundy and Gold nabbed St-Juste, many figured his ability to play multiple positions in the secondary attributed to that selection. While it may have, St-Juste quickly showed during minicamp that he could be an impactful player for Washington's defense early on, it's not just his versatility that made him the 74th overall choice.
During one specific practice session, St-Juste totaled at least four pass breakups and dropped one that would've been a pick-six. He was the star of minicamp that day.
"He has tremendous vision and understands how to play with vision," Rivera said in June. "There is no relaxing in his game. When the ball snaps, he's in position, he's got to get in phase. When he's got to burst, he knows when to burst. Another thing is he has natural abilities that are created because of his physical stature. He's got long legs, he's got long arms, he's got good strength and good core strength. He’s a pretty good package in terms of a nice, long lean corner.”
While St-Juste impressed this offseason, it's worth pointing out that all these practices were in t-shirts and shorts. A lot can change when the pads come on. Still, though, based on St-Juste's offseason showing, it's worth wondering just how much of an impact can he make as a rookie?
At cornerback, Washington's starting duo is pretty much set in Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III. Each cornerback was Washington's biggest offseason signing of the 2020 and 2021 free agent periods, respectively, and their play has earned them the rights to that role.
However, if St-Juste continues to perform at an elite level, his presence could allow Jack Del Rio to get creative with Fuller, too, and get all three defensive backs on the field at the same time.
While Jackson is solely an outside cornerback, Fuller can play both cornerback positions -- he specifically excels in the slot -- and also a little bit of safety, too. In his two seasons with the Chiefs, Fuller played all four positions in the secondary. While outside cornerback is his natural position, he truly can play all over the field.
However, if St-Juste does show out in training camp, it won't be as simple as moving him to a starting cornerback role and shifting Fuller to safety. Between Kamren Curl, Bobby McCain and Landon Collins (whenever he returns healthy), Washington has three capable safeties, with Curl and McCain able to play both positions.
With the NFL continuing to be a pass-happy league more and more by the year, defenses are playing in fewer and fewer base packages, too. This should benefit a team like Washington, as its defensive back room is a lot deeper than its linebacker corps.
So, while St-Juste likely won't be a starter right away in base defense, he should have the opportunity to compete for significant snaps in nickel and dime packages. The slot cornerback job is up for grabs -- Jimmy Moreland is likely the favorite for it entering camp -- but both Fuller and St-Juste could line up there as well.
What St-Juste has to his advantage -- something last year's rookies didn't have -- is a full offseason, a normal training camp and three preseason games. The third-round pick will have ample opportunities to show what he can do before the team begins its regular season on September 12 vs. the Chargers.
With Jackson and Fuller, along with Washington's versatile safety room, St-Juste might not be a starter immediately. But, should St-Juste continue to build on his strong minicamp, Del Rio and his staff will have a hard time keeping him off the field.
His size gives him natural abilities most of Washington's cornerbacks don't have, while his 4.5 speed allows him to stick with most defenders, too. Don't be surprised if come to the end of the season, St-Juste has a significant role in Washington's defense.
"He's the kind of guy that as he continues to grow and keeps playing," Rivera said in June. "He’s shown us that he has the ability to understand and shown us he knows what his techniques are and he plays to them. That's one of the benefits of getting a guy that's willing to do the little things, that's willing to work hard and play hard. He’s going to put himself in a position to make plays."