The Cincinnati Bengals went three decades without winning a playoff game before this past season, and they broke that streak by damn near winning the Super Bowl. And had they won it, second-year wide receiver Tee Higgins probably would have been the game’s MVP.
A 2020 second-round pick, Higgins mostly drew afterthoughts in the shadow of star rookie Ja’Marr Chase, but he still had a 1,000-yard season despite a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. He caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a game the Bengals were winning until the final minutes.
The Clemson product has certainly done some impressive things with quarterback Joe Burrow. And his position coach, Troy Walters, sees comparisons in him to Reggie Wayne, one of the past generation’s great wide receivers, who will in time be ticketed for the Hall of Fame.
He said of Wayne that he was clearly still the Indianapolis Colts’ second wide receiver behind Marvin Harrison by the end of his second year, that he “was still a little raw as a route runner and he needed to work on some of his technique”.
But after that, “he had a great year and ever since then his career ascended and every year he got better and I see Tee as the same type”, Walters continued. “One year a learning experience, get better in year two and the sky’s the limit. I’m going to stay on him to get better each year so now he’s one of the elite receivers in the league”.
Of course, the comparisons aren’t seamless. For one thing, Harrison was Wayne’s senior, while Chase is the rookie here, and has already established himself as the Bengals’ number one wide receiver—as he ought to, being Burrow’s favorite college target.
Still, there’s no denying that Higgins, a former 33rd overall pick, is on his way up. In two seasons, across 30 games (he missed three in 2021), he has 141 receptions for 1,999 yards and 12 touchdowns. He caught 74 passes for 1,091 yards and six scores during his 14 games played last year—again, having done so through most with a shoulder injury.
Of course, playing across from Chase, who is inevitably going to attract a ton of attention going forward, won’t hurt his ability to get open. Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns during his rookie season a year ago, and this year is looking to lead the NFL in all three categories.
If this young Bengals offense, and the tweaks they’ve made to the offensive line, continue to pan out as they have over the past 12 months, these guys are going to be a problem. Of course, by the time Higgins is a free agent in 2024, who knows who he’ll be playing for then. I don’t know that I see both him and Chase having very long careers in the same city as Harrison and Wayne did, overlapping for eight seasons between 2001-2008.