2020 NFL Draft Scouting Prospect Profile: Tee Higgins, Clemson
With the NFL regular season over, the playoffs more than halfway over and the NFL Draft approaching, it is time to start grinding the future of the league. Our series of prospect profiles will attempt to capture all of the dynasty fantasy football relevant players at QB, RB, WR, and TE. Our focus of these articles will be to outline the pros and cons of each player while analyzing the available data and trying to gauge each player fit in the NFL. This is a historic class of talent at wide receiver, to the point that Tee Higgins is not even being rumored to go in the first round despite his historic career at Clemson. In early analysis, I have found myself a little higher than the market on Higgins.
Tee Higgins Overview
Higgins was a five-star high school recruit who was able to get on the field for a 12-2 Clemson team that made it to the college football playoff against Alabama in 2017. Now, it is true that his only “big game” was in relief time against the Citadel but just playing and being on the field at the age of 18 for a title-contending NCAA team is a positive indicator for young wide receivers. It didn’t really take long for him to start producing in his age 19/20 season as a sophomore. Tee Higgins led all Clemson receivers in 2018 with 59 catches for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second season. A legit criticism of his resume might be the lack of 1,000 yards but that is sort of a function of who Clemson plays against. In Trevor Lawrence’s first year of starting, Clemson won eight separate games by over 28 points. Their only games all season that finished within a two-score margin was against Texas A&M(Tee had 3-123-1 in that game) and Syracuse. Higgins had 3-81-1 in the national title game against Bama and 4-53-1 in the semi-final against Notre Dame.
Higgins’ final season at Clemson was a little more impressive. He had 5-of-14 games with 98 or more yards, scored 13 touchdowns which were more than anyone on the team other than lead running back Travis Etienne. Perhaps what was even more impressive was that Higgins was able to switch roles with Justyn Ross who was the more impressive player in 2018. Additionally, a quick perusal of Higgins’ Rotoworld page indicates that he played for most of the 2019 season with nagging injuries that 1) likely impacted his long speed/athleticism and 2) decreased his playing time late in games when Clemson was winning by a ton. Evaluating wide receivers like Higgins is hard because he essentially faced no adversity in college. Trevor Lawrence is going to be the top overall quarterback selected in the 2021 draft, and Clemson played four total competitive games in his college career. I mean, think about that. CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, these guys all had to play against future NFL corners and had inconsistent QB play. Higgins had the red carpet rolled out for himself.
The elephant in the room with Tee Higgins at the combine and during the draft is going to be his long-speed. He has been measured at 6’5, 190 pounds which is a very odd size for a wide receiver (i.e we would expect him to weigh more like 210-220 pounds at that height) but the bigger issue is that it was reported he ran a 4.75 40 coming out of high school. Now, he is definitely going to be faster at 21 than he was 18 and I think there is enough evidence in the Alabama and Ohio State games that he has functional athleticism but certainly will not be a burner. We have seen over the last few years a real divergence in the types of wide receivers that find success. Boundary wide receivers like Mike Evans don’t technically NEED to have 4.4’s speed (but it helps).
The reasons to be really positive on Higgins are that he is really is perfectly sized for a modern-day NFL X wide receiver. NFL teams will not find it hard to develop a muscle + diet program to get Higgins to the right weight. At 6’4 with a dominator rating north of 25% in his two full-time playing season and at the age of 21 (will start his rookie at year at 21 and a half), he checks a lot of the boxes that we look at in an early-round selection at wide receiver.
Tee Higgins Projection
Joe Marino from The Draft Network noted on Tee Higgins “Background as a basketball player is littered throughout his game, specifically when attacking the ball out of the air. Is aggressive with meeting it at its peak and has the height, length, leaping combo in order to enter levels that are above and beyond his counterparts. Exemplifies an “above the rim” mentality that’s nearly unstoppable. Has ability to be an inaccuracy eraser with saving poorly thrown passes out of non-optimal regions. High awareness levels along the sideline and is able to maintain the imaginary line in order to keep throwing windows open along the sideline.” For my amateur eye, Higgins definitely looks like a player that has benefited from playing with an elite quarterback but also displays most of the attributes you’d want to see from a guy you’d spend a top-100 pick on in the NFL draft. There probably is some JJ Arcega-Whiteside level risk with Higgins that he was just so big dominant relative to the players that guarded him in college that he will be a “slow burn” draft pick for which NFL team selects him but that is on the lower end range of outcomes.
Given concerns about his high-end athletcism, Higgins likely will not go in the first round of the NFL Draft and will fall after Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb in the second-tier of wide receivers in dynasty rookie fantasy football drafts as well. However, the NFL is littered with players who have elite size and skills who have found a multitude of ways to make up for being a step slower than the players defending them. High-end comparable players for Higgins based off of his size, college production, and expected athleticism testing would be Marques Colston (who got much better at playing in the slot as he aged but was also slower than the positional average), while a more mid-tier outcome would be someone like Malcolm Floyd (faster, but had a long NFL career as a boundary wide receiver without ever truly breaking out) and then a multitude of low-end comps like Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham or Marquess Wilson