Washington's mandatory minicamp lasts for three days, and on Day 2, it was the third-round draft pick, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste from the University of Minnesota that was getting all the rave reviews. Twitter reports were just flying out over the internet during the Wednesday morning 11-on-11 drills.
For those keeping score, in a 20-minute session, Benjamin St-Juste nearly got an interception and broke up passes to Dyami Brown and Terry McLaurin, two of the fastest players on the team.
This is extremely promising for Washington fans, who, for the most part had never heard of St-Juste before he was drafted by the Football Team in April.
A deeper, better and more flexible DB group
Most fans have been counting on Kendall Fuller, who is the only returning starting cornerback from last year's defense, and veteran free agent William Jackson III to man the boundary corner positions consistently this season. However, the early promise shown by St-Juste in minicamp, if it continues through training camp and the preseason, may mean a different type of defensive scheme for Washington in 2021.
With St-Juste playing so well as a boundary corner, it allows defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to use Kendall Fuller as a slot corner in nickel or dime coverage, or to drop Fuller back as a third safety when the team plays 3-deep zone.
The combination of William Jackson as an every-down shutdown boundary corner and the fast-developing St-Juste who is a tall, long, strong and athletic boundary corner who played best in college in press man coverage means that the Washington defense can utilize the positional versatility of players that head coach Ron Rivera prioritizes so highly.
Strong play expected from LB Jamin Davis
Part of that defensive scheme flexibility is due to the selection of linebacker Jamin Davis in the first round of this year's draft. Davis is incredibly big and fast, and able to play all three linebacker positions. At 6'3" and 234 pounds, Davis ran a 4.48 40 at his pro day.
When Del Rio brings a 5th DB onto the field, Davis and Cole Holcomb can stay on the field as the only two linebackers, and Jon Bostic, who was an every-down linebacker last season, can come off. With Davis' size and speed, he can play the run effectively or cover tight ends or running backs in the passing game. Of course, to make that possible, Davis will need to be able to call the defensive signals, which has been Bostic's responsibility for the past couple of seasons.
The key is the quick development of St-Juste as an NFL cornerback
The key to these scheme possibilities, however, is St-Juste's rapid development into a capable boundary corner as rookie. If St-Juste can play effectively on the boundary, that will allow Del Rio to change Fuller's role depending on the defensive call. Fuller is likely to play boundary corner in base defense, slot/nickel corner in nickel defense, and may at times drop back as a 3rd safety in 3-deep zone cover, which Washington played a lot last year.
But it's the rookie, St-Juste's fast development as an NFL corner that will make it possible to move Fuller around like this.
St-Juste’s background is unique having grown up in Montreal, Canada. He attended Cegep du Vieux school in Montreal and spoke predominantly French growing up. In fact, he didn’t learn English until age 17. However, the cornerback committed to the University of Michigan early in the recruiting process. After limited playing time at Michigan in 2017, St-Juste redshirted in 2018 before transferring to Minnesota as a 2-year graduate.
With the Minnesota Golden Gophers, St-Juste enjoyed his most productive college season in 2019. He made 45 total tackles and contributed 10 pass defenses which led the team. Due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he played only five games in 2020. He recorded 14 tackles in those games and declared his intention to enter the 2021 NFL draft as an underclassman.
6’-3” cornerbacks in the NFL are few and far between, which makes Benjamin St-Juste an intriguing prospect. While he played only 18 games in college, he offers unique length for the position, and he should be able to use it effectively in Jack Del Rio's defense.
Benjamin St-Juste had a great day at minicamp on Wednesday. If he keeps stacking good days together between now and the start of the season, he could end up being something really special when he lines up in burgundy & gold this season.