To understand Benjamin St-Juste’s growth in his second season, look at how he matched up with Minnesota Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson in Sunday's 20-17 loss.
Not only did the Commanders trust St-Juste to follow Jefferson around the field -- shadowing him wherever the wideout lined up pre-snap -- but the cornerback was able to use his 6-foot-3 size to his advantage. In the end zone, for instance, St-Juste blanketed the wideout to force a pass breakup -- that landed right in the hands of Commanders cornerback Danny Johnson.
Washington forced a turnover and St-Juste played a key part in the interception.
"He fought and battled his butt off," coach Ron Rivera said.
Jefferson still finished the day with seven catches for 115 yards, so the cornerback's performance was hardly perfect. But St-Juste still impressed Rivera and others by how he hung tough with a receiver widely regarded as one of the best in the NFL.
St-Juste's growth didn't just start this past weekend against the Vikings, either. This season, the Commanders have used the former third-rounder in a variety of roles and the 25-year-old has responded each time. St-Juste started the year as a slot cornerback -- despite having never played inside corner before this season. Then in Week 5, when William Jackson III was benched, the coaching staff moved St-Juste back outside full time -- a move that seemed to benefit the corner as he returned to his natural position.
Teammate Kendall Fuller said he thinks St-Juste's brief time in the slot will only help him in the long run. One of the harder things to do in the NFL, he said, is to be able to switch between outside and inside because they're "two different games." Fuller did it earlier in his career, though now mostly plays on the outside.
"You have a better understanding of where everyone is going to be," Fuller said. "As a nickel, you work with your safeties a lot. It's a different aspect, a different angle than from working with your safety as a corner.
"Just having a feel of where everybody is supposed to be, where your help is allows you to play faster and go out and make plays."
St-Juste showed promise his rookie year, with Rivera comparing the Minnesota product to former All-Pro Charles Tillman. But St-Juste's season was derailed by a series of head injuries. The cornerback was placed in concussion protocol three times before landing on injured reserve in December. He played in just nine of 17 games.
St-Juste, though, has been healthy so far. And over the last four games that he started on the outside, the Canadian native has missed only one defensive snap -- logging 249 of 250 snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed 246 yards on 14 catches in that span.
Against the Vikings, St-Juste almost had his first career pick-six. The cornerback picked off Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins by snatching the ball from Jefferson -- only for the play to be called because of defensive pass interference. The penalty itself was debatable -- St-Juste made contact with Jefferson as the ball was arriving, though Rivera said he disagreed with the call -- but the play demonstrated the physical nature of St-Juste's game.
Speaking to reporters after the contest, St-Juste said he'd try to be more careful next time, but added he's always going to try and make a play on the ball.
"I love getting those opportunities to go against the best," St-Juste said. "Jeff' is probably top five in the league right now, so the fact that I'm able to go toe-to-toe with him, the whole game and follow him -- he made some plays, I knew it was going to be a dog fight so I tried to keep my head up and my chest out."
St-Juste was also able to recover after being beaten early. As the Vikings worked their way down the field on their very first drive, Cousins found Jefferson in the end zone over St-Juste for the touchdown.
But when Cousins tried him again later? St-Juste's pass breakup led to the interception by Johnson.
"It shows you what type of player you are," St-Juste said. "I don't back down from that. I like that so I can measure my talents and see how big my ceiling is."
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