2020 NFL Draft Prospect – Tee Higgins, WR Clemson

NP Merrill

Our NFL rookie profile series continues with this analysis of 2020 NFL Draft Prospect Tee Higgins, WR from Clemson. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analysis right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league!

After opting out of the Scouting Combine, Higgins’ draft stock has slipped to at least some degree in both the NFL and in dynasty leagues. His explanation at the time was that he had insufficient time to prepare after Clemson’s long season and (ultimately disappointing) appearance in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship. I suspect, however, that there is more to that story.

word image 75

Image from ESPN.com.

Rumored earlier this year to be a potential target for the Buffalo Bills – the kind of deep target jump-ball aficionado who would suit quarterback Josh Allen nicely – Higgins is just not particularly athletic. Not in the purely metrics sense of the term, anyway. Or rather, athleticism is not the strong suit of his game.

Instead, he uses his height advantage and mammoth wingspan, along with well-developed timing and tracking skills, to high-point the ball and win out over defensive backs who – perhaps faster in a straight line test – nonetheless find themselves out-maneuvered as the ball arrives. In other words, he’s more physically intelligent in the way he plays, and less raw speed and burst and power.

As a 2016 recruit out of Oak Ridge High School, Tennessee, he ran a 4.75-second 40-yard dash. He doesn’t perform particularly well in any of the other measurables either. And yet he was named five-A Mr. Football his senior year in high school and was a finalist for the Mr. Basketball title as well. He’s got game, it’s just not going to come through in terms of fractions of seconds and feet and inches. He uses the skills he discovered along the way to those pre-collegiate accolades, and then developed with the help of excellent coaching at the college level, to get the job done.

So yes, he passed on the workout at the 2020 NFL Combine, knowing full well that he wouldn’t favorably stack up against his peers on that national stage . . . and then came the Clemson pro day.

He did not shine, at least not in the metrics testing. He ran the 40-yard dash officially at 4.54, posted a 37” vertical leap, and put up a 10’ 3” broad jump. His 1.66-second ten-yard splits would have been the worst among all wideouts at the Combine. He ran a solid 20-yard shuttle at 4.25 seconds, which would have put him in sixth place at the Combine, but nothing about that day was stellar – certainly not what one would expect from a wide receiver some have projected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. He looked good catching passes, though.

Which brings us back to Buffalo. They were apparently unimpressed with what they saw from the rookie receiver, so they traded for the proven Stefon Diggs instead, using the 22nd draft pick (plus three others) that some thought they might spend on Higgins to secure the services of the known quantity that the former Viking brings to the table. Now it looks more likely that Higgins falls into the second round, but most analysts project he will fall no further than that.

Where should we be picking him in our rookie drafts?

The Stats

screen shot 2020 04 21 at 09.34.03

Stats courtesy sports-reference.com.

Catching 59 passes for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaging 19.8 yards per reception, Higgins put an exclamation point on his college career in 2019 with Trevor Lawrence at the helm of the Tigers’ offense. His performance also came while playing alongside another standout young receiver in Justyn Ross.

While these numbers reflect superior quarterback play – which nobody can deny – they also represent primarily first-half stats: Clemson blew out a majority of its opponents last year, and Higgins was not part of the mop-up crew. Significantly, he was top-five in yards per route run, and had the sixth-most deep ball receptions with 15 on 23 deep targets.

In the end, Higgins tied fellow Clemson alums DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins for the school’s career touchdown record with 27.

The Film

While he didn’t work out at the Combine, he did do interviews, during one of which he talked about how he can improve at running routes:

“I definitely work on just running a full route tree,” Higgins said. “Just something that I’ve always wanted to improve on, running different routes and deeper routes — because routes are deeper in the league — and really just working on coming out of my breaks and just the little things that a receiver needs to work on.”

The following film analysis was highly educational for me with respect to Higgins and generally regarding what to look for in wide receivers.

Watching him leap above defensive backs to pluck and tuck the ball (as discussed in the first film clip above) highlights the contested catch prowess everyone associates with Higgins.

He had nine receptions for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the 2019 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship:


DLF’s Ray Garvin put this All-22 film up on Higgins vs. LSU:


The Measurables

Higgins carries the prototype NFL wide receiver frame at 6’4” and 216 pounds (though his playing weight is less and he could benefit from adding bulk in the blocking game, especially).

With arms measuring just over 34”, he has a 96th-percentile wingspan, accounting for his colossal catch radius and very high success rate in the contested catch category. We’d prefer that he consistently create separation rather than emphasize contested-catch skills. Realistically, however, he is going to have to use those skills against pro defensive backs, and he demonstrated them nicely throughout the last two years of his collegiate career.

Dynasty Value

According to DLF’s Dynasty Rookie Rankings, Higgins is ranked as the 11th rookie overall, currently slotted as the WR6 just behind Justin Jefferson and ahead of Denzel Mims. His current startup ADP is 87, and he’s being valued as the WR41 in the April 2020 WR Startup Dynasty ADP.

This is right in line with his ADP in the new DLF Champion Series ADP where he is being taken as the 40th wideout in those exciting startup drafts.

Ray Garvin notes: “As a 19-year-old sophomore, Higgins broke out with a 22.37 percent market share of Clemson’s passing offense while also producing a 27.40 percent dominator rating. The following year he took things to the next level by commanding a 26.98 percent market share of his team’s passing offense and a 29.74 percent dominator rating.”

word image 77

Higgins’ NFL prospect grade of 6.37 pegs him as a predicted starter within two years, and that seems likely in the event he lands with an offense that takes a deep ball approach. Maybe he goes to the Colts with the 34th pick? It’s going to be fun to watch. Moreover, it will largely determine where we should take him in dynasty rookie drafts. If he lands in a spot where he can emerge as a starting WR2, I’ll be taking him anywhere from 1.10 to 2.04 and I don’t think he’ll make it past that very often.