Welcome to the first installment of this series, which will highlight the defensive back of the week, whether it be a cornerback or a safety. The purpose is to highlight a defensive back who has jumped out while watching tape or is starting to become polarizing as the draft draws near.
Ideally, after you read this article, you should have a clear picture painted on each featured prospect. The best way to do that is to breakdown the player in a way that comprehensively breaks down the prospect from the start to finish of a play. We begin with what the player is like from a mental perspective, which will represent the pre-snap phase of the game.
For cornerbacks, the next phase will be explaining how they play at the line of scrimmage from press coverage. Safeties usually are not aligned in press, so that will not be a criteria for them. Moving back from press coverage, we will then dive into how they play away from the line of scrimmage in off-coverage.
Off-coverage allows a picture to be painted of what kind of athlete the defensive back is, whether it be hip fluidity, quickness, speed, or range. Finally, a play ends when the ball hits the ground or if the ball-carrier is taken down. To depict that, a visual will be created on what kind of finisher the prospect is as a tackler and with their ability to get their hands on the football.
Our first ‘JB Defensive Back of the Week’ honor goes to Minnesota Gophers’ cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, a lanky 6-foot-3 corner, who possesses the size and length that NFL teams covet at the position. After graduating from the University of Michigan in two and a half years, he transferred to Minnesota with three years of eligibility remaining.
After playing sparingly at Michigan, the former four-star recruit by way of Canada, tapped into his potential during his time at Minnesota. Taking a deep dive into St-Juste this week, he appears to be a cornerback who is not getting the attention he deserves.
Minnesota asks St-Juste to play a healthy blend of off coverage and press-man. When aligned in off coverage playing man-to-man, he processes releases and route stems at an impressive speed showing the ability to keep his leverage. He displays quick eyes in zone coverage, with a knack for seeing routes that are coming from the opposite side of the field and climbing with depth. He rarely falls for route concepts that find most corners covering grass when a receiver leaves their zone. St. Juste always looks for routes coming back into his area, seeing the field with the depth, so that nothing goes over his head crossing back from the opposite side of the field.
The instinctual St-Juste shows excellent mirroring abilities in press coverage due to extreme patience that forces the receiver to declare. He understands the importance of keeping space without giving up any ground for the wide receiver to cut back underneath him. St-Juste shows
advance press skills when he can kick slide at a 45-degree angle on vertical releases, forcing the receiver to run the route through him or around him to push vertical. Once he slides his feet laterally to the receiver, he then uses his excellent length to stab receivers. Where he loses, is in press coverage, he tends to shoot his jab without moving his feet at times, causing his hips to lock and give the receiver a step on him.
Cornerbacks of his size usually struggle to play away from the line of scrimmage because their length causes them to struggle with their agility. Off-coverage may very well just be the best part of his game due to superb hip fluidity and short-area quickness. Playing a majority of his reps into the boundary side of the field, St-Juste finds himself in several man-to-man situations. He shows great patience and does not panic when he has to play away from the line of scrimmage. St-Juste exhibits incredible patience when matching the tempo of wide receivers.
His natural feel for space enables him to stay on top of receivers without losing his leverage to still play tight to intermediate level routes. He has extremely loose hips that open up with ease and allow him to stay tight to receivers. St-Juste uses exceptional short-area quickness to drive downhill on throws. Incredible patience combined with exceptional short-area quickness out of his breaks has allowed him to essentially erase all quick game throws in his coverage, as he can compete consistently on throws to that area of the field.
In zone coverage, St-Juste excels with leveraging routes properly, keeping the proper spacing between routes with the proper vision on the quarterback. His biggest battle athletically will be his lack of long speed that will cause him to struggle with receivers who excel has vertical threats.
With zero career interceptions to his name, some will question if he has the ball skills worthy of spending a high draft pick on a cornerback. His lack of interceptions is not fully indicative of his ball skills due to the lack of opportunities of him having to high-point the football. He does have a knack for breaking up passes due to staying in phase with receivers and his ability to show exceptional burst driving downhill out of his breaks. St-Juste also is a finisher as a tackler, showing a willingness to run fit with urgency. He displays an ability to be an efficient tackler on running backs in the open field and on wide receivers when limiting yards after the catch.
In what has the makings of a very deep cornerback class, Benjamin St-Juste is a cornerback prospect that is currently being unheralded. He owns everything you want in a Day Two cornerback and is worthy of top-75 overall consideration. Lack of long speed and ball production is what hurts him from possibly being considered even higher than that. With all the makeup of a future starter at the NFL level due to his scheme versatility, St-Juste will be a late riser who goes from being the defensive back of the week, to possibly being the flavor of the month for teams come April.