After losing four-year starter Shaquill Griffin to the Jaguars earlier this month, the Seahawks are firmly in the market for a long-term solution at cornerback as free agency continues and the 2021 NFL Draft approaches.
Currently, Seattle has only three cornerbacks offering more than 10 games of starting experience at the position, including D.J. Reed, Tre Flowers, and recently-signed ex-49ers third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon. Behind them, Gavin Heslop and Jordan Miller have dressed for one combined NFL game and are the only other two corners under contract. Veteran Quinton Dunbar, who started six games in 2020, remains a free agent.
Seeking a successor for Griffin and fitting the prototypical mold the Seahawks look for at the position, Minnesota's Benjamin St-Juste could be the ideal alternative to draft and develop into the team's next standout cornerback.
Offering rare size and length at the cornerback position, St-Juste stands 6-foot-3 and 3/8 inches, weighs 205 pounds, and has 32-inch arms and a remarkable 80-plus inch wingspan. He uses this length to his advantage by physically disrupting receivers off the line of scrimmage in press coverage. He also has the patience and route recognition skills to play off-ball coverage and serve as an eraser taking away tight throwing windows, particularly in the red zone.
Possessing decent top speed for a cornerback of his size, St-Juste rarely was beaten in Big Ten play for explosive vertical plays. He carries receivers well downfield, staying in their hip pocket and using his length to swat away passes at the catch point. Per Pro Football Focus, he surrendered only two deep balls in his career at Michigan and Minnesota and one of those came on an extended "broken" play.
St-Juste's unique build for the position also helps him as a run defender, as his length allows him to create separation and disengage from blockers on the outside. Once he has shed the block successfully, he's a sound tackler who exhibits quality technique wrapping up and getting ball carriers to the ground. He plays with an attitude and willingly contributes against the run and screen passes.
While he consistently got his hands on passes at the Senior Bowl, St-Juste's lack of ball production casts some doubt about his playmaking skills at the next level. While he did produce 10 passes defensed as a junior in 2019, he didn't record a single interception in his entire collegiate career and only had one pass defensed in his other three seasons for the Wolverines and Gophers.
Playing in the rugged Big Ten, St-Juste didn't draw many matchups against top-tier NFL talents on the outside and only played 420 snaps in coverage. But due to below-average change of direction skills and tight hips transitioning out of breaks, he endured his share of issues covering speedier, shiftier receivers such as current Broncos receiver K.J. Hamler, who produced over 100 receiving yards against the big-bodied cornerback in 2019 while at Penn State.
On film, St-Juste has a tendency to become "grabby" while attempting to maintain tight coverage on opposing wideouts, particularly on vertical routes. While his physicality will be welcomed by whoever drafts him, it could leave him susceptible to penalty issues in the league.
Fit in Seattle
Despite adding Witherspoon to the fold, the Seahawks currently lack a long-term game plan at the cornerback position. Witherspoon will be playing on a one-year "prove it" deal, while Reed and Flowers each have one year remaining on their current contracts.
While it's certainly plausible one or more of those three players could play themselves into a multi-year extension, if there's a position where coach Pete Carroll should be confident in the ability to draft and develop talent, it's cornerback. The team would be making a mistake not using one of its picks at the position seeking a future starter.
If available in the fourth round when the Seahawks are on the clock at pick No. 129, St-Juste would be an intriguing option, as he possesses the size, length, and physicality Seattle looks for on the outside. More polished than advertised, he could potentially compete for playing time earlier than expected.