Tee Higgins to the Bengals: Is Higgins the Heir Apparent to A.J. Green?
Higgins as a Prospect
Higgins served as one of Trevor Lawrence's top receivers at Clemson for the past two seasons. While he struggled to produce in his rookie season with Kelly Bryant under center, Higgins did finish the season with a 6-reception, 178-yard, 2-score game against an overmatched Citadel team.
Higgins picked back up where he left off and smashed in his 2018 sophomore season, leading the team with 59 receptions and finishing with 936 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 81 yards and a touchdown in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. He helped propel the Tigers to a national championship that year. He rounded out his college career with his best season yet, catching 59 passes for 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the lone rushing attempt of his collegiate career, he took the ball 36 yards for a score in the team's loss in the national championship game to the Louisiana State Tigers.
One concern with Higgins' collegiate production was that he never garnered a dominant share of the team's receiving production. While he did lead the team in scoring each of the past two seasons, he never put up eye-popping stats, even when compared to his teammates. While that might be a major red flag in some cases, we can partially explain it in Higgins' case by noting that he played alongside Justyn Ross, who is already projected by some to be the top wideout in next year's draft class. If we believe Higgins was playing alongside another NFL-caliber receiver, we can justify his lack of jaw-dropping production a little easier. It should also be noted that as Clemson routinely demolished their opponents, and starters like Higgins were frequently held out of the second halves of their games. While his raw receiving numbers don't quite elicit the same reactions as those of his peers in this year's draft class, his 3.59 yards per route run -- a metric that evaluates how efficient and consistent a player was when they were actually on the field -- is one of the best in the class.
Higgins' style as a receiver is reminiscent of former Clemson receiver Mike Williams. At 6'4" and 216 pounds, he's is a big receiver who uses his size to his advantage. In addition to making some highlight reel catches, he was also an extremely reliable pass catcher -- per PFF, he dropped just 6 of a total of 120 catchable passes over the past two seasons. He consistently put up numbers down the field, evidenced by his 19.1 yards per reception in 2019, and was a contested catch machine, reeling in 28 such catches in his collegiate career.
But that's part of the concern with Higgins as a prospect. While he frequently contributed splash plays and deep receptions in college, his pro day testing numbers underwhelmed. His 4.59-second 40-yard dash time ranked in the 33rd-percentile per PlayerProfiler.com, and his burst score ranked in the 15th-percentile, so there should be legitimate concern over how well he will be able to translate his strengths to the next level. Furthermore, while he did make an impressive number of contested catches, the sheer volume of those receptions imply that he may not have been successfully generating separation from opposing defenders. That's something that will only become more difficult at the next level.
Higgins may have some difficulty finding the field consistently at the beginning of the season, as the Bengals already have Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green on the roster. However, Higgins should be able to carve out a role in three-wideout sets and learn behind one of the best jump-ball receivers in the game. Green and Higgins share similar body types and play styles, and could end up being one of the most physically imposing receiver duos in the league by the end of the 2020 season.
It is also worth noting that Green has missed a significant amount of time over the past few seasons -- including the entire 2019 season -- and that he was reportedly disappointed to receive the franchise tag earlier this offseason. If Green suffers another injury in his age 31 season -- or holds out -- Higgins could be see the field much sooner than expected.
The Bengals are definitely doing their best to surround Joe Burrow with as much talent as possible. Higgins should have time to learn and grow beside Green and Boyd, and eventually will be expected to take over Green's duties as the team's top wideout. He may not find immediate fantasy success in 2020, but this is a near-ideal landing spot for the former Clemson Tiger.