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Why I like the decision to draft Washington’s new defensive back, Benjamin St-Juste

Versatility is the key

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Minnesota at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Washington drafted DB Benjamin St-Juste with the 74th overall pick, in the third round of this weekend’s draft.

St-Juste, who will turn 24 years old near the start of his rookie season in the NFL, is a long-bodied cornerback who shows promise as both a boundary corner and, potentially, as a free safety. He has all of the extension skills and length that coaches look for, though he doesn’t possess great quickness or speed, which may be reasons for him to focus on the safety position as a pro. He will come to camp as a prospect who offers some of the “uncoachables” that doubtless led the Washington front office to draft him with their initial third-round pick.

As Tony Pauline said, “He possesses the size and skill to be used in a variety of systems and comes up with a large upside.” Ron Rivera is known to value positional versatility as a key trait for those who play for him. Asked about his focus on versatility, Ron Rivera said that it had been a part of his coaching philosophy since he worked as the defensive coordinator under head coach Norv Turner in San Diego in before he got the head coaching gig in Carolina in 2010.

Talking with reporters immediately after the draft, head coach Ron Rivera said that St-Juste does have the body and flexibility to play safety. For his part, St-Juste said that he will do whatever his new coaches need him to do, whether they want him to play slot corner, on the boundary, or line up at safety. He added that, though he has never trained as a safety, some NFL teams had wanted to see him there, so he played the position in the Senior Bowl.

A lot of my tape is at cornerback so that is how I am mostly being evaluated right now. But I did play some safety at the Senior Bowl, just like you said. I gave all 32 teams a little glimpse of my versatility. If they want me to play at safety in certain packages at the next level, I can handle that. I have the skill-set to move around. I can play nickel, strong safety, cornerback, or free safety. For me, versatility is clutch.

Obviously, the Washington scouts and coaches liked what they saw. But they weren’t alone. Ron Rivera said on Friday night that the team had received offers to trade out of the #74 position where they drafted St-Juste, but they decided to stay there and draft the former Golden Gopher DB. Right after the pick was announced, said coach Rivera, the team that had been trying to trade up to Washington’s spot called back and said, “That was our guy.”

If the coaches decide to keep him at cornerback, then St-Juste would fill a backup role behind boundary corners Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III. Fuller would likely move to the slot in nickel coverage, so it is unlikely that coaches will look for St-Juste to learn that role as a rookie. He is likely to be able to win a spot on the roster in competition with backups Danny Johnson, Greg Stroman, Darryl Roberts and others.

If coaches do ask St-Juste to play safety, which seems unlikely with the drafting of Darrick Forrest, it would be a new role for him, and he would likely be no higher than third on the depth chart behind Jeremy Reaves and Deshazor Everett. He may well have the opportunity, however, to grow into a starter role over the course of a season or two.

As a rookie, St-Juste will probably be seen as extremely versatile DB depth who will get on the field primarily in nickel and dime defensive packages, but his early third-round pedigree indicates that coaches see a future for him where he fills a starting DB role in 2022 or beyond.