There wasn't even a hint of hesitation in Benjamin St-Juste's voice when he was asked to describe his expectations for himself in 2023.
"All-Pro," St-Juste told SVP of broadcasting Julie Donaldson. "Nothing less."
Well, okay then. Consider the bar to be raised for the third-year cornerback. It would certainly be a historic moment should St-Juste accomplish that goal; there have only been six pure defensive backs in franchise history to receive First Team All-Pro honors, and the last one to do it was Hall of Famer Darrell Green in 1991 (for those of you who don't want to do the math, that's 32 years).
Perhaps St-Juste is unaware of that fact, but even if he is well-versed in Washington's history, that wouldn't be enough to rattle his aspirations. After spending the last two years honing his skill set, he foresees a jump in his development.
We've already seen a look at St-Juste's potential, and based on last year's sample size, there's an argument to be made that he was the Commanders' best cornerback on the roster. Once he moved from the slot to the outside on a regular basis, he was routinely matched up against opponents' best receivers and held his own for the most part.
Prior to suffering an ankle injury against the Houston Texans making a pass breakup that resulted in an interception by Darrick Forrest, St-Juste faced the likes of Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown. Despite missing four games, he finished second among the team's cornerbacks in tackles (42) and third in pass breakups (7).
"I think I found my potential in terms of [being] a CB1, being matched up against a star receiver and performing well and stepping up in big moments" St-Juste said. "That was kind of like a little coming out moment for me."
The more St-Juste stood out, the more the Commanders were willing to give him opportunities on the field. The perimeter was where he could be found the most -- he had 421 snaps at that spot in 2022 -- but he also saw 168 snaps in the slot and a handful of snaps closer to the box (40) according to Pro Football Focus.
St-Juste believes he's earned the right to be a No. 1 cornerback, but he likes to soak in as much knowledge as possible to help his position flexibility.
"I think the greatest thing you can have is availability and also versatility," St-Juste said. "Let's say there's a certain game or a certain package where they like me on the inside because they have a bigger receiver. If I know what I'm doing, know my assignment as a nickel, then I can go inside and play, but if I don't know that, then I'm stuck on the bench because they're gonna put somebody else there that knows what they're doing."
And it also doesn't hurt that he is uniquely gifted in terms of size (200 pounds) and length (6-foot-3) for the cornerback position.
"It's going to be about matching, and you want to make sure you have the right body type on the right type of a player that's in there," said head coach Ron Rivera. "So, that's kind of what the thought is there. He will play on the outside as well, but we have to be able to say, 'Hey, we can put a big guy there.'"
So, St-Juste has proven that he can play at almost any position in the secondary and thrive on the field. The next step for him is to get the most out of his snaps, and that involves execution and route recognition. Improving in those areas takes time and familiarity with the defense, but St-Juste believes the time he's spent learning over the past two seasons will propel him to new heights in 2023.
"When I see something on film, I trust it, I believe it, and I jump it [the route]," St-Juste said. "Also turn some of those PBUs into a pick six or an interception."
The challenge for St-Juste is to avoid injury, which was a problem for him in the last six games. Aside from 44 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers, he was mostly relegated to the sideline after his ankle injury against the Texans.
This year, St-Juste is determined to avoid upending what could be a promising season.
"If I can stay healthy the whole season, I can do great things," St-Juste said.