Montreal cornerback Benjamin St-Juste has elite NFL ambitions

He’s tall, long-armed, fast — and aims to play right away

It’s not enough for the best NFL cornerbacks to possess supreme self-confidence. They need to radiate it. They need everyone else to know it, too.

Benjamin St-Juste aspires to be not just an NFL cornerback, but a top NFL cornerback.

His brand of self-confidence, though, doesn’t come wrapped in grating cockiness or arrogance. Rather, he convincingly imparts his self-certainty in a firm yet pleasant manner — like a good Canadian kid, as a certain hockey broadcasting icon might say.

St-Juste is from Montreal. As a boy, he loved hockey and skiing before first playing football at age nine.

He wound up starring at Cegep du Vieux Montreal in the middle of the past decade, which earned him a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He barely played there but graduated in sports management in just two years, then transferred in 2019 to the University of Minnesota, where he started nine games in his first season. He starred this past fall while completing his master’s degree in sports management.

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The NFL draft is four weeks away. St-Juste is widely viewed as an early Day 3 pick, and might sneak into the third round on Day 2 as one of the top 105 selections.

St-Juste is a tall, athletic cover corner — in the Richard Sherman mould. He stands 6-foot-3½, weighs 200 pounds, has a wingspan of more than 80 inches and has arms 32 inches long.

“You just don’t see many corners like that,” NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler of told Postmedia last month. “You can count on one hand the number of NFL corners that are over 6-3, have above 80-inch wingspan and who are going to run. And he can run.”

Just making an NFL team is not the 23-year-old’s ambition. That came through loud and clear during a video conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, a day before his University of Minnesota pro day.

“I have great values and work ethic,” he said. “I put in extra time when people are not looking. Could be in the film room or on the field, whatever.

“But a lot of players in the NFL do that, so I’m going to double-down on that and put in even more work, be even more in the film room — using my resources and my opportunities so I can separate myself from the pack in the NFL, so I can be one of those elite players. Obviously in the NFL, a lot of people do those things.”

Benjamin St-Juste of the Minnesota Gophers breaks up a pass intended for Jaron Woodyard of Nebraska during the fourth quarter of their game at TCF Bank Stadium on October 12, 2019.(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

St-Juste, raised a francophone, knew little English until six years ago. That’s downright shocking to learn, because St-Juste speaks English practically without a trace of accent.

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His top-shelf intelligence probably has a lot to do with that. St-Juste was named to the Big Ten’s all-academic team this past fall.

On the field, if St-Juste had better cornerback stats then his draft stock might be appreciably higher. He did not intercept a single pass either in a few cameos at Michigan, or in two years of starting at Minnesota.

“But his length, speed and competitiveness — that’s what you’re banking on,” Brugler said. “Those are the type of traits that you want to bet on when you’re looking for a developmental corner. Does he need plenty of work? Yes. But he’s the type of guy that can ride receivers up and down the field. I think he’s a classic press-man corner at the next level.”

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For his part, St-Juste said his most pro-ready attribute is his technique.

“I feel like in press, and man, and all that, I’m a very smart player. I rely on my technique and use it well. I’m a student of the game. I’m one of those guys who will be in the film room, dissecting the offence and see what they do, and what my (matched-up) receiver is doing.

“I guess 50% of it is mental, and 50% of it is physical. If you just rely on your physical attributes in the NFL I’m pretty sure you’re not going to make it far, because you need to be a student of the game. You need to have your mental game on point, so that’s what I try to work on — a lot.”

Asked what he specifically is looking for with all that film study, St-Juste went deep into the weeds, but explained it simply.

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“While breaking down a receiver, I want to see his first- and second-down routes compared to his third-down routes,” he said. “I look at his steps, if he’s counting his steps on his route, what kind of route is he running?

“Does he come off the ball the same way in the run game versus the pass game? A lot of receivers they’ll be nonchalant if it’s the run game. I want to see if you keep the same energy, the same steps, in the run game vs. the pass game. And how does he come (off the line)? Does he push off, or whatever? How does he attack the ball at the highest point?”

St-Juste said he has no numerical goals for any of the combine-style speed and athleticism drills he planned to do at Thursday’s pro day.

“I know I’m going to test well, regardless of whatever numbers come out of it. I know I’m a great athlete, I’m a great football player. I’m just going to go out there and have fun.”

St-Juste’s draft stock got a boost in January during his impressive performances at practices leading up to the Senior Bowl, with numerous talent evaluators from nearly every NFL club on hand.

He impressed at corner, and even took a few reps at safety. If playing safety helps him get more playing time as a rookie, all the better, he said.

“Yeah, it could be on defence as a starting corner, or another position where they see me fitting well for their team,” he said. “It could be on special teams. But regardless, I want to bring something to the team and have an instant impact in my rookie year … that’s what I’m working toward.”

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