For the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals to have success, the offense must take advantage of what’s easily one of the deeper skill position groups in the NFL.
At wide receiver, Tyler Boyd is already one of the NFL’s better slot wideouts, while No. 5 overall pick Ja’Marr Chase has the potential to become Cincinnati’s latest franchise game-breaker in the line of Chad Johnson and A.J. Green.
But when it comes to 2021, it may be second-year man Tee Higgins who makes the biggest impact among Bengals pass-catchers.
Our friends at The Post Route debated who will be the top breakout players of 2021. When it came to skill players, editor Sarah Hardy went with Higgins.
I’ll stick with the AFC North and go with Tee Higgins. Despite a strong rookie campaign, Higgins flew under the radar last season — probably because he plays for the Bengals and once Joe Burrow got hurt, he was forced to catch passes from Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley. Still, Higgins managed to lead the team with 908 receiving yards and six TD catches. If Burrow had played all 16 games, then Higgins was, as Christian pointed out earlier this week, on pace for 1,118 receiving yards.
With a healthy Burrow and speedy first-rounder Ja’Marr Chase to play alongside of, Higgins — who reportedly turned heads during minicamp — should, like his offensive coordinator put it, “be a problem” for whoever has to line up against him.
As a rookie second-round pick by way of the Clemson Tigers, Higgins technically played all 16 games as a rookie, but he logged just 15 snaps in Week 1, then suffered a hamstring injury that limited him to just three snaps in Week 17.
Over the 14 games in between, Higgins averaged 4.8 catches for 64.9 yards on 7.6 targets per game while scoring six touchdowns.
Sadly, just as Higgins was really coming into his own, Joe Burrow went down with a season-ending knee injury. Including that Week 11 loss at Washington, Higgins caught just 27 balls for 305 yards and two scores over the next six games while catching passes from Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley. Higgins failed to break 100 yards the rest of the season after doing so twice in the previous four games.
If Burrow stays healthy, the offensive line improves, and Chase draws the attention of opposing defenses, there’s a path for Higgins to have a huge 2021 season that establishes him as one of the game’s best young wideouts (he won’t turn 23 until January of 2022).