LOS ANGELES –– On Could 4, 2016, extensive receiver Tee Higgins tweeted, “I’ll meet A.J. Inexperienced in the future.” Even when he was a young person, Higgins stated he was enthusiastic about one of the best receivers in Bengals historical past and the place he may slot in that image
On the time, Higgins was in highschool and 6 years away from posting a 1,000 yard season for a Cincinnati Bengals workforce that’s about to play within the Tremendous Bowl. Inexperienced was Higgins’ favourite extensive receiver within the NFL, and Higgins admired Inexperienced’s physique management, his means to catch a bounce ball and his grit.
From the second the Bengals drafted Higgins, he was within the shadows of the franchise’s nice receivers that got here earlier than him. He was drafted to be Inexperienced’s eventual alternative, which got here with stress. And Higgins picked the No. 85 jersey quantity, which instantly led to comparisons between Higgins and former Bengals extensive receiver Chad Johnson.
So getting into the 2021 season, Higgins needed to take his profession in a unique course and make a brand new identify for himself. Earlier than Week 1, he introduced that he’d swap from No. 85 to No. 5 on the finish of the 12 months.
Higgins began to chart his personal path, and he backed it up by making a few of the most troublesome catches of the NFL season.
“I’m a totally totally different participant than I used to be final 12 months,” Higgins stated. “I positively made that bounce I hoped to see.”
When the Bengals drafted Higgins in 2020, Higgins entered an unusual state of affairs for a rookie extensive receiver. Because the No. 33 decide within the draft, the Bengals anticipated him to develop with quarterback Joe Burrow and finally fill Inexperienced’s position within the offense. However the Bengals additionally made Higgins earn each snap he bought.
On the time, the Bengals had Inexperienced, Tyler Boyd and John Ross III as their beginning extensive receivers. Auden Tate was the No. 4 receiver coming off a profession 12 months in 2019, and Mike Thomas and Alex Erickson had been key particular groups gamers. With so many extensive receivers, there was no assure Higgins would even be energetic for Week 1 of the 2020 season.
After which Higgins suffered a preseason setback with a hamstring harm. Higgins was energetic for the Week 1 recreation towards the Los Angeles Chargers, however he performed solely 15 snaps and didn’t report a catch.
As he bought nearer to full energy, Higgins didn’t take lengthy to change into the receiver the Bengals had been on the lookout for within the draft. He completed the 2020 season with 908 receiving yards and began 14 of the Bengals 16 video games.
“Tee has actually been changing into among the finest receivers within the recreation down the sphere,” Burrow stated. “He’s at all times working previous individuals and profitable bounce balls.”
In the course of the 2021 offseason, Higgins made essentially the most spectacular progress on the roster. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor famous how Higgins was “greater, stronger and extra bodily,” and Burrow stated Higgins was the participant he anticipated to make the most important bounce this season.
For the primary month of the season, Higgins was held again by a shoulder harm that led to him lacking two video games. However in Week 8 towards the New York Jets, Higgins gave the primary signal that he was able to be a star NFL extensive receiver.
On a deep route down the suitable sideline, Jets cornerback Bryce Corridor held Higgins’ left arm. It didn’t matter, and Higgins made a leaping one-arm catch on the objective line. Each time safeties shifted towards extensive receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s aspect of the sphere, Higgins constantly made acrobatic catches that had been paying homage to Inexperienced in his prime.
There was Higgins’ 360-degree turnaround in the long run zone for a landing catch towards the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a catch towards the Los Angeles Chargers the place Higgins leapt within the air to catch a landing versus a double workforce. Towards the Baltimore Ravens, Higgins made the very same play for a 39-yard catch.
Within the playoffs, because the Tennessee Titans and Kansas Metropolis Chiefs double teamed Chase, Higgins recorded a 96-yard recreation within the second spherical and a 103-yard recreation within the AFC Championship Recreation.
“For a second-year participant, it doesn’t get higher than that,” Boyd stated. “Each time we name his quantity, he catches it. He simply bought 1,000 yards for the primary time in his profession, and he’ll proceed to do this.”
In a season the Bengals haven’t had since 1988, Higgins made the 2 most essential catches. Within the fourth quarter towards the Chiefs, Higgins turned a brief crossing route right into a 16-yard reception that arrange the go-ahead subject objective in regulation. Then in additional time, Higgins arrange the game-winning kick with an eight-yard catch that put the Bengals in subject objective vary.
On that play, Higgins made a pointy minimize from the left sideline towards the center of the sphere. He used a fast transfer close to the primary down line to create separation, made a leaping seize and prolonged the ball previous the primary down line.
For a participant who entered the 12 months hoping to make a reputation for himself, Higgins made one of many largest catches in Bengals historical past.
And the Tremendous Bowl can be a chance to set the bar even increased for the remainder of his profession.
“I really feel like I’m making a reputation for myself,” Higgins stated. Now I’m hoping to make it even greater.”