Western Kentucky University tight end Tyler Higbee, who is currently in the middle of an assault case, has been watched by Cincinnati Bengals tight end coaches this offseason. Higbee was seen as a tight end with a very high draft stock before a knee injury last season cost him five games. This has dropped his draft stock, but when you look at his abilities there is still a lot of reason to think highly of his on-field play. Though, the legal trouble he could be in will further drop his stock and bring questions to where he'll fall in the draft and who will take a chance on him.
Pro Day Results:
Weight: 251 pounds
Bench press: 18 reps
Higbee was once a receiver at WKU, but gained about 60 pounds in his time in college and moved to the tight end position. He had the advantage of having the incredibly skilled passer Brandon Doughty throwing to him, so that helped him when getting down the field to catch passes. Doughty and Higbee connected 38 times for 563 yards and eight touchdowns in Higbee's senior year. Higbee posted 100-yard receiving games against two of WKU's best opponents in 2015, as he put up 102 yards and a touchdown against Vanderbilt, and 109 yards and a touchdown against Indiana. Higbee only played in nine games due to a knee injury that ended up requiring surgery. Because of that injury, Higbee did not participate in any drills at the NFL Combine.
Strengths: Higbee is an incredible receiving tight end, which comes as no surprise since he started his career as a wide receiver. He proved that he can be extremely difficult to bring down, as he broke 10 tackles on his 38 catches in 2015. Although he did not run the 40-yard dash, it is still clear from his highlight reel that he has too much speed for linebackers to keep up with him. Not only that, but thanks to his combination of size and speed he is even a tough cover for safeties at times. Even if they can cover him, they have to pull attention away from wide receivers which can really open up the offense. As expected with his receiver past, Higbee has great hands and can hold onto the ball when making catches in traffic, and he is good at getting open underneath zone defenses to make the catch and then turn up field. Higbee's expanded frame combined with his hands and speed make him a major receiving threat at the tight end position.
Weaknesses: Just as much as Higbee's wide receiver past helps him, it could also hurt him. Thanks to starting off as a wide receiver and his injury, Higbee does not have a ton of experience at the tight end position. On top of that lack of experience, Higbee is not especially strong which could lead to concerns when it comes to blocking, although he has gained weight and could continue to fill out and make himself fit the tight end size even more. His injury is bothersome as well, as it causes you to question how stable he will be in the NFL. Another issue (obviously) is the hot water he is currently in legally, facing charges for assault, public intoxication, and evading police. This case still needs to be sorted out, but this could be an issue that harms Higbee's draft stock if he is found to be at fault.
Bottom line: Higbee has great hands, he is hard to bring down, and he is fast for his position. Even though he still needs to fill out some more, there are no major weaknesses in his game that can't be corrected with more work at the tight end position and some added size. While his upside could be high, it is difficult to see the Bengals using any early picks on Higbee. Tyler Eifert is clearly a staple of this Bengals team and is a top-flight receiving tight end himself, and Cincinnati drafted tight end Tyler Kroft last season, so there isn't exactly a dire need for Higbee in this offense. The Bengals have other team needs that they will need to focus on before setting their sights on Higbee, but if they can fill their wide receiver and safety spots up and he is still available, he would not be a bad acquisition. If he could take control of the backup tight end spot and get onto the field occasionally, his receiving capabilities could allow both him and Eifert to pull defensive attention away from the receivers and make the Bengals offense that much more dangerous. Before Higbee's incident, it seemed highly unlikely that he would be around even by the fourth round. With the arrest, Higbee's stock could take a big hit. If Higbee is still available in the fifth round or later and his reputation has not been completely destroyed by this case, he would be a good selection if the Bengals want to take on another tight end.