The Washington Commanders knew from the start of offseason training that they needed to get Benjamin St-Juste on the field, no matter what it took.
St-Juste, who was drafted with a third-round pick in 2021 and missed a chunk of his rookie season with injuries, began turning heads during OTAs as the team's starting nickel corner. His length and physicality made him a challenge for wideouts, and he was the only defensive back who seemed to give rookie Jahan Dotson problems.
Those plans shifted as the Commanders progressed into the season, as injuries to William Jackson III forced St-Juste to play more as an outside cornerback. St-Juste thrived in that role as well, as he was pitted against opponents' best receivers and held his own against the likes of Justin Jefferson and Brandin Cooks.
No matter where he was lined up, St-Juste feels he proved himself as a rising defensive back.
"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."
It seemed like Washington had its cornerback situation sorted out heading into June with Jackson and Kendall Fuller locked in as the primary outside options. So, the only way for St-Juste to get on the field as a starter was to bump inside to the nickel.
There was much about the move that made sense. At 6-foot-3, St-Juste had the length to match up against bigger receivers, but he also possessed the quickness to keep up with quicker players.
St-Juste had never played the position, but the switch was an easy for one the second-year pro to make.
"I spent so much time with the coaches, and I got guys like Kendall that played safety and nickel and stuff, so I was asking questions," St-Juste said. "They [Washington] knew they were drafting me to be versatile around the defense and move around. As long as I can be on the field helped the defense, I don't care where I am."
As prepared as St-Juste was, it did take some time for St-Juste to adjust. He allowed three receptions on five targets in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The following week, however, he was targeted four times and allowed just one catch for six yards.
As the Commanders progressed through the season, it became apparent that St-Juste was needed elsewhere. The defense was consistently beaten on explosive plays, and Jackson was underperforming for various reasons.
Jackson was ultimately traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving St-Juste to go back to being an outside corner permanently.
"I've been playing corner my whole life," St-Juste said. "So, when you switch me back to my original position, it's easy to click back in."
No cornerback, regardless of talent, is going to be perfect against receivers. They are going to get beat on occasion, particularly players like St-Juste, who were regularly pitted against teams' top playmakers.
Still, the Commanders trusted St-Juste with the toughest assignments, and he met those high expectations. Against the Texans, which was his best performance, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed one catch for four yards.
"I have the talent to do this consistently every week," St-Juste said.
Unfortunately, the Texans game was also when St-Juste's season got derailed. He sprained his ankle defending a pass to Cooks, and he only played in one game for the rest of the season.
Now that he has shown that he can be a No. 1 cornerback, St-Juste's next step is to get healthy.
"A lot of taking care of the body, taking care of the mind, taking a little trip with the wife to relax and decompress," St-Juste said. "Making sure I come back here healthy and strong … We're gonna put a lot of work to really step it up."