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Tee Higgins exceeded expectations in promising first season with Bengals

The ex-Clemson receiver turned heads in his first season in Cincinnati.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Tee Higgins
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

They say that you get what you pay for. But sometimes, you get exactly what you bargained for.

Such was the case with Bengals’ rookie receiver Tee Higgins, whom Cincinnati selected with the first pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft.

Higgins, fresh off an impressive college career at Clemson that included 2,448 yards and 27 touchdowns, had clear first-round talent but fell to day two after a run on receivers on day one. Call it the perfect storm.

“I was telling my mom, ‘If the Bengals select me it’s going to be crazy because it’s my favorite team,’” Higgins said after the draft. “They called and the emotions just started. I started crying, my mom, my sister started crying. It was a great moment.”

It was definitely a great moment for the Bengals. Higgins was the seventh receiver selected and one of a record 13 receivers picked in the first two days of the draft.

“Where we got him, when we got him in the second round, (it) is unbelievable now that you look back on it,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said.

After a slow start that saw Higgins held without a catch in the season opener against the Chargers and limited to 35 yards on just three receptions against the Browns in Week 2, Higgins started to show the NFL what he was made of.

Against the Colts in Week 6, Higgins amassed the first of two 100-yard games on the season. After going off for seven receptions and 115 yards in a Week 10 loss to the Steelers, Higgins seemed on track for a Bengals’ rookie receiving record and was a good bet to go over 1,000 yards.

But then fellow rookie Joe Burrow went down with a knee injury in Week 11, and Higgins’s relentless march slowed down, as well.

Even so, Higgins went off for 99 yards on six receptions against the Texans in Week 16, only to re-aggravate a hamstring injury early in the season-finale against the Ravens.

Cincinnati’s new No. 85 finished the season with 67 receptions to tie Cris Collinsworth for the most catches by a rookie in Bengals’ history. Higgins racked up 908 yards and his overall Pro Football Focus grade of 75.9 earned him a spot on their all-rookie team. He missed that 1,000-yard mark this time; odds are that won’t happen again for some time.

“Another achievement I always wanted to accomplish, to have a 1,000-yard season,” Higgins told Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic. “Not just in the league but in college. I achieved it once, but being able to do it in the league full of pro players would be an unbelievable achievement. Being able to do that, I obviously wanted to break the reception record for the Bengals. I caught it but it was called back and so I happened to get hurt on that play. It is what it is, come back stronger next year.”

Rookie records and 1,000-yard seasons are nice, but Higgins is primed to be one of the central forces in the Bengals’ offense for years to come. A subdued end of his first year will not stop him from reaching his sky-high potential.