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Washington Commanders bucking trend with 6-foot-3 Benjamin St-Juste at nickel back

Andrew Buller-Russ

Typically NFL teams find smaller defensive backs to play the nickel cornerback in their defense. We’re generally talking players who are anywhere from 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-11. But the Washington Commanders are prepared to do something a bit different, which is to have the 6-foot-3 Benjamin St-Juste covering slot receivers.

St-Juste is a second-year pro, who the Commanders selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He saw three starts as a rookie, but now he could be primed for an even bigger role heading into his second season.

Benjamin St-Juste generating big buzz

NFL: Washington Football Team OTA
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

While first-round rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson generated the most headlines during the team’s minicamp sessions in June, Benjamin St-Juste also drew praise for being capable of sticking with the craft pass-catcher. He appeared to catch the eye of Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in particular.

“One guy I would single out would be Benjamin St-Juste as having a great offseason. I expect great things from him.”

Jack Del Rio on St-Juste

St-Juste wound up playing in nine games as a rookie, compiling 26 tackles and three pass deflections. Unfortunately, the Canadian-born football player dealt with multiple concussions, causing St-Juste to head to injured reserve in early December, where he’d miss the rest of the season.

While the Commanders are locked in with their outside starting cornerbacks, with Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III, the nickel role is still up for grabs in coach Ron Rivera’s defense. But with St-Juste turning heads in camp, he appears to be one of their best options, even if his size is a bit unique for the role.

Chris Harris, a former nickel back extraordinaire during his own playing days, now coaches the defensive backs in Washington and he recently spoke to why St-Juste may be a good fit for the gig, noting a particular set of skills that makes him ideal.

“He has a very unique skill set. You don’t see many 6-foot-3 corners, with his size, with the quick twitch and lateral movement that he does have. Being able to have both of those, at that position, I think is a plus, a bonus. He’s grasped the defense really well — faster than I actually anticipated. He’s been phenomenal and it’s been fun to see his maturation process over these four, five weeks.”

While teams don’t really care what size their nickel backs are, it’s not that they seek smaller types, it’s just that the bigger players typically get stuck covering other larger receivers, who usually play on the outside, instead of in the slot. And if St-Juste does get the gig full-time, it’s not like the Commanders will be the only team to have a larger defensive back covering slot receivers, but it’s still unique.

Related: Terry McLaurin extension locks in a strong group of pass-catchers for Washington Commanders