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Comparing the rookie seasons of Tee Higgins and A.J. Green

Higgins, proving to be one of the biggest steals of the 2020 NFL Draft, is on pace to have a bigger rookie year than Green.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While the Bengals were thoroughly dominated Sunday by the Steelers, one bright spot from the loss was Tee Higgins having a big game.

In his first game at Pittsburgh against a defense allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards per game (Joe Burrow threw for just 213 yards), the 21-year-old Higgins hauled in seven grabs on nine targets for 115 yards and Cincinnati’s lone touchdown of the day.

For comparison, A.J. Green had 131 receiving yards combined in his first three games vs. the Steelers and didn’t break 100 until his fourth game vs. Cincinnati’s biggest rival (116) as a 24-year old.

After having just 75 receiving yards over his first three games, Higgins has now recorded 71+ yards receiving in five of his last six games. Though 71 doesn’t sound big, over the course of a 16-game season, that would equate to 1,136 yards, which would be the most a Bengals player has had since A.J. Green in 2015 (1,297).

Higgins is actually on pace to have a bigger rookie year than Green, who finished his first season with 65 grabs for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. Higgins is currently on pace for 71 catches for 1,072 yards and seven scores.

Green did miss one game as a rookie, where Higgins has yet to miss one, though he was only given 15 offensive snaps in Week 1, so there wasn’t a real opportunity to shine given to him in that loss to the Chargers. Since then, Higgins has logged 43+ snaps in every game.

The most receiving yards Green had as a rookie was 124, and Higgins has already topped that with 125 yards in the loss to the Colts.

Higgins’ longest reception was his 67-yard grab vs. the Colts, while Green’s season-high as a rookie was 58.

Thus far, Higgins is averaging 15.1 yards per reception, where Green averaged 16.3 in 2011.

Green’s season-high for catches in Year 1 was 10, while the most Higgins has caught so far was seven in the loss to Pittsburgh.

Green never scored more than once as a rookie, while Higgins scored twice in the tie with the Eagles. And that’s with Green, Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate all commanding a healthy number of targets each week in 2020, whereas the receivers next to Green as a rookie were Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Andrew Hawkins.

Finally, Green finished his rookie year with a 72.8 Pro Football Focus grade. Higgins is currently topping that with a 74.0 mark.

Now, the one area where Higgins has had a better path to success as a rookie was the quarterback situation. Ironically, Andy Dalton was also a rookie in 2011 compared to Joe Burrow in 2020.

Dalton finished his rookie year with a 63.7 PFF grade. Burrow currently sports a 74.0 grade, so it’s clear he’s been an upgrade at QB compared to what Dalton was as a rookie.

However, Higgins is having a great rookie year after turning just 21 in January. Green, on the other hand, turned 23 in July prior to his rookie season, so he had almost two years on Higgins going into his first season. Yet Higgins has performed just as well and seemingly has more room for growth and development compared to where Green was.

Sticking with comparisons, Higgins was actually compared to Green coming into the 2020 season by NFL Films guru Greg Cosell (and our own Patrick Judis).

“Well he’s (Higgins) another guy like A.J. Green,” Cosell said. “He’s not quite as explosive as AJ, but he’s long, he’s athletic, I think you can line him up outside or in the slot. He has a wide catching radius. There’s a competitiveness to him. He made a bunch of catches at Clemson where he had to extend away from his frame and he made those kinds of catches,

“I think in today’s NFL, those catches are critical. Usually big receivers, A.J. Green is the exception, usually big receivers are not sudden and explosive, so they end up having to make more contested type catches and I think Tee Higgins fits that.”

While there are still seven games left this season, it’s clear the former Clemson Tigers star was a home-run pick for the Bengals with the 33rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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