Canadian Benjamin St-Juste doesn't want to ease into the NFL as a rookie.
The six-foot-three, 200-pound cornerback from the University of Minnesota is projected as a second-day selection in this year's NFL draft, But St-Juste wants to contribute immediately to the team that selects him.
"Instant impact," St-Juste told reporters during a videoconference Wednesday. "It could be on defence as a starting corner or at another position where they see me fitting well for their team.
"It could be on special teams. Regardless, I want to bring something to the team, have an instant impact in my rookie year. Being a leader, being a captain, performing on special teams, performing as a starter and getting rookie of the year. Just having that instant impact, that's what I am working towards for my rookie season."
St-Juste will have the opportunity Thursday to again impress pro scouts during Minnesota's pro day. The lanky Canadian said his only goal will be to enjoy the process and have fun with it.
"I don't really have any goals to be honest," he said. "I know I'm going to test well, I know I'm going to do well and regardless of what numbers come out, I'm a great athlete and I'm a great football player.
"I'm just going to go out there and have fun and if I come out with some crazy number, then I come out with some crazy number. If not, it is what it is but I don't put that pressure or stress (on himself) and I don't have that expectation from the outside."
St-Juste showed plenty of versatility at the Senior Bowl in January, performing well at both cornerback and safety. He was also invited to the NFL combine but that event was held virtually, putting more weight on St-Juste's performance in Mobile, Ala.
"A lot of teams interview me as a corner," he said. "But just the fact they saw me play at the Senior Bowl as a safety, they're like, 'Oh that adds a little bit more value to him,'
"That's just good for me."
Another good showing Thursday certainly wouldn't hurt. Pro Football Network has given St-Juste a third--to-fourth round grade.
St-Juste began his college football career at Michigan, playing as a freshman in 2017 before redshirting in 2018 due to a hamstring injury that ultimately affected his scholarship status. He transferred to Minnesota in 2019, appearing in all 13 games (starting nine) and finishing tied for the team lead with 10 pass breakups.
St-Juste played in five of Minnesota's seven games this season. He registered 14 tackles and broke up three passes while earning academic All Big-10 honours.
After leaving Michigan with a degree in sports management, St-Juste earned his master's in the field at Minnesota — impressive, considering St-Juste wasn't able to speak English until he was 17.
St-Juste's play has also attracted attention in Canada. He was ranked 11th on the CFL scouting bureau's most recent list of the top-20 prospects for this year's draft.
St-Juste said playing in the NFL has been his goal since first picking up a football.
"I've always had that in the back of my mind that need to make it," St-Juste said. "I feel like, personally for me, if you don't have that ultimate goal of going to the NFL and really perform, I feel like your dream will die throughout the process."
Preparing for the NFL draft is a marathon, not a sprint. The months-long process involves numerous physical tests and an abundance of interviews and maintaining an even-keel throughout is key.
"I used to be very hard on myself but then I realized it's just a blessing to be in the position I am today,," St-Juste said. "I just try to have fun . . . if you don't have fun playing football, what are you doing?
"That's the kind of energy I'm bringing into (Thursday). I've been doing it my whole life, just go have fun with it at the end of the day."
St-Juste models his game after several NFL cornerbacks.
"I like Jalen Ramsey (L.A Rams), he's a big, physical corner similar to me," St-Juste said. "Growing up I looked up to Richard Sherman (veteran free agent) a lot, a student of the game, very smart, similar body shape.
"Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore Ravens), he's another physical defensive back. I like that about his game and I try to model my game around him."
St-Juste said while he considers himself a hard worker, he'll have to take that up a notch in the NFL.
"I have great values, I have great work ethic, I work hard, I put in the extra time when people aren't looking," he said. "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 . . . using my resources and opportunities so I can separate myself from the pack of players in the NFL so I can be one of those elite players."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press