The truth of NFL roster construction is that you can’t fix every positional problem you may have with a first-round draft choice or a big-money free agent. Sometimes, you have to be right about a middle- or late-round draft pick or find the right mid- to low-cost free agent who fits what you want.
The New York Giants might be in that position this offseason when it comes to cornerback. They have James Bradberry, an outstanding No. 1 cornerback. They had a revolving door on the other side, though. Corey Ballentine, Ryan Lewis, Isaac Yiadom and Julian Love all had chances at that spot.
Can they get by again with some combination of Lewis, Yiadom and Love? Maybe, but that would probably mean more soft zone rather than the man-to-man coverage it is presumed defensive coordinator Patrick Graham would like to rely on.
The Giants probably can’t spend big money on a cornerback this free agency cycle. They could use the No. 11 pick on a cornerback like Patrick Surtain of Alabama or Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech, if available. Should they go in another direction, they could be looking for a cornerback on Day 2 or Day 3 who fits Graham’s vision of what he wants from a cornerback.
What is it that Graham wants at that position?
The defensive coordinator was clear multiple times last season that there are four characteristics he wants at cornerback — length, speed, toughness and willingness/ability to tackle.
Which, 500 or so words later, brings us back to St-Juste.
St-Juste is a kid from Montreal who doesn’t appear to have played a high level of high school competition. He wasn’t really on anyone’s recruiting radar, but earned a scholarship to Michigan after impressing coaches at a football camp there.
Things didn’t really work out at Michigan, partially due to hamstring issues. He played only three games for the Wolverines in 2017, didn’t play in 2018 and entered the transfer portal for the 2019 season. Minnesota quickly snapped him up.
Over two seasons with the Golden Gophers, St-Juste played in just 15 games.
As Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy told Big Blue View recently, St-Juste has always been “under most radars.”
That, though, could be changing as the draft approaches.
St-Juste turned a Senior Bowl invitation into a showcase. He both played well and turned up with some eye-popping measurables. He is 6-foot-3⅜, 200 pounds, with 32-inch arms and an 80¼-inch wing span. The height, arm length and wing span would all be in the 90th percentile or higher for cornerbacks measured in past years at the Combine.
“That’s rare size. There’s only seven corners in the league right now over 6-3 and most of them are stiff. Benjamin’s definitely not stiff, he can really bend, he did a great job getting his hands on people at the line of scrimmage down here [at the Senior Bowl],” Nagy said.
“The type of height and length and he was very competitive down here, very physical, competitive. The league right now is all over the kid, I don’t think draft Twitter and the Internet has caught up yet on Ben, but they will. They will when it starts leaking out how much the league likes him. That’s probably another guy the Giants should be looking at.”
Here is some of the other reaction to his work at the Senior Bowl.
Highlight: #Gophers Benjamin St-Juste's pass break up in Senior Bowl on Saturday. Rangy 6-foot-3 cornerback with suffocating press coverage to deny slant.— Andy Greder (@andygreder) January 30, 2021
Sounds like he’s improved his draft stock this week, including NFL Network commentator on how he might play safety in NFL. pic.twitter.com/Bd7OoJDIGk
Defending the deep ball pic.twitter.com/S7Vrgrp0Y4— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) January 30, 2021
Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi wasn’t surprised St-Juste got people’s attention in Mobile.
“We thought very highly of Ben,” Rossi said. “He kinda, I felt like, didn’t get a chance to get on radar, but we had seen it every day. He went down there and kinda did a really good job.”
Back to Graham’s boxes — length, speed, toughness, tackling.
“He’s certainly long, and he certainly can run,” Rossi said. “He certainly checks the boxes as far as the length and the ability to run.”
He is also tough enough and long enough to play press-man, but hasn’t really been tested much as an edge-setting run defender.
“He’ll hit you, but he’s not a guy that we asked to be in the [run] fit,” Rossi said. “He’s willing.”
The highlight reel below shows a bit of St-Juste’s skill set.
Rossi kept coming back to St-Juste’s rare height and reach for a cornerback.
“The thing about the length is even when you’re wrong you’re right sometimes because you’re so long,’ Rossi said. “You can be a step behind, you can be slightly out of position but that arm length and having to throw over makes you right a lot.”
Rossi was a special teams coach at Rutgers when Devin and Jason McCourty and Logan Ryan were Scarlet Knights. He coached Antoine Winfield Jr. at Minnesota. So, he’s been around quality players.
Like Nagy, he is impressed by St-Juste’s movement skills for his size.
“Ben at that size gets in and out of his break probably as good as I’ve personally been around. He doesn’t have that stiffness that a lot of times you see with longer guys.”
St-Juste is an interesting guy, and that doesn’t include just as a football player. Son of a French mom and Haitian-born father, he speaks, French, English and Creole. Because of the way school works in Canada and his medical redshirt year, St-Juste will turn 24 in September, older than most in the draft class. He has a Master’s degree in sports management from Minnesota and a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Michigan.
“He’s kind of like an older spirit,” Rossi said. “A lot of DBs are crazy outspoken. That’s not him. He’s more of a thinker. He’s mature, When he speaks he’s not going to, very rarely is he going to say something he’s going to regret and want to take back. He’s not off the cuff like that. He’s even-keeled … he’s just more of a reserved, quiet guy, and he’s no maintenance.”
That remark called to mind Ryan and Bradberry, both of whom have probably overachieved during their successful NFL careers.
Rossi think St-Juste has a chance to follow a similar path.
“I think he has a chance to do it [be a starter]. I can’t tell you that I know that for sure,” Rossi said. “With Ben I think he’s got a chance. Again, why? Why to me is he hasn’t had as much of a resume on film to do it. I can see a situation where he has a better professional career than he has a college career because of the limited time he has playing here.
“I could certainly see him being a middle-round guy that goes on to have a very long career.”