Tee Higgins (5) of the Clemson Tigers reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter of their game at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 1, 2018 in Charlotte, N.C. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images/TNS)

Second-round pick Higgins feels ‘special connection’ with Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals began their offensive rebuild by drafting Joe Burrow first overall Thursday, and now they are adding pieces around him.

With the first pick of the second round, the Bengals selected Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins at No. 33 overall in the NFL Draft on Friday.

Higgins, listed at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, led the national runners-up in receiving yards as a junior in 2019, finishing with 59 catches for 1,167 yards (19.8 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns while garnering first-team All-ACC honors. He finished his Clemson career, which also included a national title in 2018, tied for the most receiving touchdowns in school history (27) with NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkin.

“That’s been the standard for him is he plays for championships, and that’s why he went to Clemson,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Higgins during a Zoom news conference Friday. “When I went down to Clemson’s Pro Day with a couple of our coaches, it’s really the last day before everything got shut down. I got a chance to meet with coach (Dabo) Swinney there for about an hour, and we really talked specifically about Tee, and he just raved about him, the energy he’s going to bring to the receiver room. He’s the same guy every single day. So again, we’ve just got to keep adding weapons as best we can, and he’s certainly a weapon that we get to add to our arsenal.”

The Bengals have so much uncertainty at the wide receiver position, many were expecting them to use their second pick to give Burrow a young weapon to develop alongside like A.J. Green and Andy Dalton did after getting drafted in back-to-back rounds in 2011.

Green was franchise-tagged and continues to try to lock up a long-term deal but could be a free agent in 2021 if that doesn’t happen, and 2017 first-round pick John Ross is in the final year of his rookie contract with a fifth-year option he needs to earn by proving he can get through a season healthy.

Taylor said drafting Higgins has no impact on Green’s future but Higgins was someone the Bengals didn’t feel like they could pass on, despite getting trade offers for the 33rd pick.

Higgins was ecstatic about the idea of playing alongside Green, who he’s followed since Green was playing at Georgia. Higgins has been a Bengals fan ever since the Bengals selected Green in the first round of the 2011 draft, and he was hoping they would take him after he fell to Day 2.

“Just getting a call from my favorite team in the NFL is surreal,” Higgins said. “Being able to call myself a Cincinnati Bengal is crazy. Being able to play with Joe (Burrow), he’s a guy with great character, he tore it up on the college field and I know he’s going to tear it up in the league. So, I’m really looking forward to building that chemistry with him and going out there and tearing up defenses.”

The Oak Ridge (Tenn.) native became a fan of Green because he’s a similar type of player – bigger than most of the defensive backs he faces – and he tries to model his game after him. He also sounds a bit like former Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, as they both apparently share the same love of McDonalds.

Higgins said he was eating Buffalo Wild Wings during the draft Friday but planned to go out and celebrate later by getting a double cheeseburger and fries. Higgins was aware of Johnson’s own addiction to McDonald’s, but didn’t know that Johnson had been endorsing him on social media Thursday. On Twitter, Johnson called Higgins a game-changer and he should have been selected in the first round.

Now that just adds to the connection Higgins already felt like he had with the Bengals.

“Once I talked to (coach Taylor), I was like that is a guy I want to play for,” Higgins said. “Ever since then, I knew it was a special connection with the Bengals, man. I’m just glad I’m a Bengal now.”

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