First of all, I hope all of our readers are safe and managing through this bizarre time. Thankfully, we have the NFL Draft coming up, which will give us a nice escape from everything else going on in the world. So let’s get to it.
Once again, the Clemson Tigers are getting a good portion of the spotlight in the draft. Despite what those head-scratching “Build Your Dream U” scenarios from a certain sports network would have you believe, the Tigers continue to live up to their “WRU” moniker, as they have churned out another top NFL prospect at the position. This year, it’s Tee Higgins.
Higgins, a five-star recruit out of Tennessee in 2017, was named after former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin. Meanwhile, fellow 2017 receiver Amari Rodgers is actually Martin’s son. Neither, however, ended up at Tennessee, as both chose Clemson. Hope you enjoyed that quick reminder.
Career at Clemson
Higgins’ Clemson career started somewhat slowly, as his freshman season in 2017 saw him behind upperclassmen Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud on the depth chart. Saying that now seems ridiculous, but that’s the way it was.
Higgins started to see more action late in the season, and finished the year with 17 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns, emerging as a deep threat down the stretch. An ankle injury early in Clemson’s ugly Sugar Bowl (and College Football Playoff) loss to Alabama kept him from fulfilling his presumed role as an X-factor to stretch the field against a stingy Crimson Tide defense.
In 2018, Higgins would shed the X-factor label, as he became one of Clemson’s top weapons, and a favorite red-zone target for then-freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Who can forget his highlight-reel catch-and-run for a touchdown in College Station, right after Lawrence had entered the game?
Higgins helped Clemson its second national championship in three years, and the first 15-0 season in the modern era. He posted an impressive stat line of 59 catches for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the national championship game against familiar foe Alabama, he was also the recipient of an immaculate throw from Lawrence that was high enough to elude Tide linebacker Mack Wilson, but not too high for Higgins’ elite ability to high-point the ball.
Most recently, Higgins capped off his Clemson career with another standout year that included offensive MVP honors in the Tigers’ ACC championship game victory over Virginia. For the year, Higgins once again hauled in 59 catches, and this time broke the 1,000-yard plateau with 1,167. He also added 14 touchdowns, vaulting himself into a tie for the school record for touchdown receptions (27) with two guys named DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Not too shabby! He would have had the record all to himself if not for a highly questionable offensive pass interference call in the Tigers’ national championship game loss to LSU, but I digress.
Measurables and Scouting Report
One of Higgins’ best attributes is his size, at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds. He isn’t the fastest receiver (he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at the Clemson Pro Day), but his height and ball skills make up for that, creating a match-up nightmare for opposing cornerbacks. He was a basketball star in high school, and he demonstrates that with his body control, ability to gain advantageous position on balls up in the air, and, again, his high-pointing and arm extension prowess. All of those attributes make him the ideal red-zone weapon.
While Higgins might not have elite raw speed, he is shifty enough and picks his spots well enough to create the separation he needs, either prior to the catch or with the ball in his hands. In fact, he actually had a 36-yard rushing touchdown in the 2019-20 championship game against LSU—the only rushing attempt of his career. He showed his shiftiness and strength in order to stay up until reaching the endzone.
Any additional separation he might need on downfield throws is usually achieved at the point of the catch with his aforementioned ball skills as well as his strong instincts and awareness of where he is on the field.
Oh, and did I mention body control?
Higgins might have underwhelmed in some of his other tests—particularly his 31-inch vertical jump—but those are not really measures that should create much concern. He does not possess quite the level of athleticism as some of the other receivers in the draft, but that’s not how he’s had success to this point. When it comes to winning a battle for a contested throw, he’s a strong bet because of his size and unique skills that are perfectly tailored for his position.
In a deep draft for receivers that includes Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, Denzel Mims, and Justin Jefferson among others, Higgins could squeeze into the latter part of the first round, but could also just as easily fall to Day 2 before being selected. Some teams might galaxy-brain their evaluations of him by making too much of his underwhelming Pro Day measurables and not enough of his consistent collegiate production and unique skill set. If that happens, he could possibly even fall to the third round, at which point he would be a steal.
Some possible late first-round landing spots for Higgins include the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 21 (to give Carson Wentz a young, vertical and red-zone threat), the Minnesota Vikings at No. 22 or No. 25 (who need to replace the traded Stefon Diggs), the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 (to supplement elite wide-out Michael Thomas) and the Green Bay Packers at No. 30 (Aaron Rodgers could really use another receiving threat, as the Packers’ receiving corps sees a big drop-off after Davante Adams).
Of course, anything is possible, especially if Higgins doesn’t hear his name called on Day 1. If Higgins is still on the board on Day 2, there are numerous spots where he could ultimately end up. In that scenario, whichever team selects him would stand to receive (no pun intended) a great return on their investment.