Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 26: Clemson WR Tee Higgins

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

26. Clemson WR Tee Higgins

6-foot-4, 216 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Possesses the size and ball skills to be a go-to receiver, but questions about his speed could hurt his draft stock.

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (and top 20 nationally), Higgins de-committed from Tennessee and gave a pledge to Clemson over Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. Higgins enrolled early at Clemson and caught 17 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games as a true freshman.

In 2018, Higgins was a second-team All-ACC selection and started 15 games as a sophomore, leading the Tigers to a national title in 2018. He caught a team-high 59 passes for 936 yards and 12 receiving TDs, including 81 yards and a touchdown in the title-game victory over Alabama.

As a junior in 2019, caught 59 passes for 1,167 yards and 13 TDs for the national runners-up. He was named first-team all-ACC and finished his Clemson career tied for the most receiving touchdowns (27) in school history, along with DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

Higgins, who turned 21 years old in January, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. Although he chose not to work out at the NFL scouting combine, Higgins did perform all the combine drills (except for the 3-cone drill and bench press) and perform positional drills at Clemson’s pro day.

Upside: Long, tall and athletic. Long arms (34 1/8 inches) and terrific wingspan (81 inches). Basketball background shows up in his play — attacks 50-50 balls like a rebounder at the rim. Boxes out and positions his body exceptionally well to shield off defenders.

Highlight-reel receiver — hauled in some showcase grabs the past two seasons. Dynamic ball skills all over his highlight reel. Really nice reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Great catch radius — highpoints the ball well and hauls in passes beyond his frame. Quick-twitch ability to adjust to off-target throws.

This grab against Texas A&M is impressive in how Higgins can readjust mid-air to snatch the ball and prevent a play on the ball from the defensive back:

Check out the body control on this grab against the Aggies.
Check out the body control on this grab against the Aggies.

Displayed the ability to break tackles and gain quality YAC — especially for a bigger receiver. Scored 25 TDs over his final 30 college games. Red-zone weapon — 14 combined TDs over past two seasons. Could be used as a slot-fade weapon in the red area. Displayed really nice, natural hands most of his career. Averaged more than 18 yards per catch and hauled in plenty of downfield balls.

Takes care of the details. Effective getting off press and received two great tests against press-man defenses in playoff games against Ohio State and LSU. Nice, natural feel for navigating the secondary and sitting down in the soft spots. Has worked extensively with athletic QBs — knows how to work under scramble rules and work back to the ball.

This is a simple thing but an important one. Watch as Higgins drags across the formation against North Carolina State, keeping a relationship with quarterback Trevor Lawrence rolling out. Higgins accomplishes two smart things with one subtle peek to the sideline: He finds out where the defender is between him and the sideline and also makes sure he’s past the sticks on this catch.

See if you can spot the subtle head turn mid-route.
See if you can spot the subtle head turn mid-route.

Ascending prospect with room to reach his ceiling. Played nearly NFL-length schedule (15 games apiece) past two seasons. Steeped in big-game atmosphere — appeared in combined eight conference title and playoff games past three seasons. Showed toughness in returning midgame from injury against LSU in 2019 national title game.

Downside: Lacks top-level explosion and speed. More build-up speed than burst out of the blocks. Pro-day 40-yard dash time of 4.53 was middle of the road, but his 1.66-second 10-yard split and 2.72-second 20-yard split would have both fallen in the bottom fifth percentile measured against combine times since 1999.

Odd lower-body explosion discrepancy between his vertical jump (31 inches, bottom 10th percentile) and broad jump (10-foot-3, upper 30th percentile). Lacks short-area quickness to separate with sudden movement. Not dynamic on quick hitters — better attacking intermediate and deep. Must get stronger.

Hands on the small side — 9 1/4 inches. Drops became a strange issue late last season — five drops in final six games (on 43 targets) after only six drops in the first 37 games of his career (on 171 targets). Dropped a few balls he normally pulled in.

Only operated inside occasionally — fewer than 100 snaps inside over the past two seasons combined. A bit too linear in his routes — must add more savvy and precision as a route runner.

Higgins and Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah — a top-10 overall prospect this year — had a pretty nice battle in the playoff semifinal, with each man winning some reps. But here, watch as Higgins kind of drifts into his slant and fails to separate at the catch point, leading to the ball being knocked down. Even if you argue Lawrence could have thrown a better ball, our counter would be that Higgins still needed to run a better route here:

Higgins has to finish this route a lot better.
Higgins has to finish this route a lot better.

And here’s the end-zone angle for a different perspective of that same play:

A better view of a pretty lackluster route.
A better view of a pretty lackluster route.

Still learning how to play through contact downfield. Savvy corners can bump him off his routes or squeeze him against the sideline. Needs to develop better feel for defeating defender’s arm when jockeying for position.

Might not be diverse enough to be a WR1 for a team in Year 1 (or even Year 2). Relies on too much natural ability to win. Flashes elite, game-changing talent, but he’s too inconsistent. Didn’t face a slew of great corners or double coverage most of his career. Benefitted from spread scheme with elite QB, OL and skill-position talent all around him. Ran a fairly lean route tree — heavy on fades, in-cuts and sideline routes. Wasn’t Clemson’s best NFL WR prospect the past two years — that would be Justyn Ross.

Best-suited destination: There’s a bust factor to Higgins’ game, and the question is whether he can separate from man coverage consistently. But in a vertical passing game, he could be an outside 50-50 winner who develops the other aspects of his game and exploits his rare gifts.

Among the teams we could see being interested in Higgins’ services include the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Las Vegas Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers.

Did you know: Not surprisingly, Higgins was a dominant player at Oak Ridge (Tennessee) High School, winning the state's Class 5-A Mr. Football award as both a junior and a senior. But did you know he also was nearly as decorated in basketball?

Higgins was a finalist for the Tennessee Mr. Basketball award as a junior, averaging 15 points and 6.6 rebounds.

They said it: “Back when I was younger, I was in and out of a house with my aunt because my mom was addicted to drugs. She was in and out of prison, so I didn’t really grow up with her as much. Her boyfriend shot her twice … when I was in kindergarten. Just seeing her go through the struggles that she did it was just something like no other. I don’t wish that on anybody.

“Now that she’s 12 years clean, it’s unbelievable — all because of the man above. It’s something I hope no one goes through. Her story is why I’m here. She kept me playing football. I want to have her stress-free life. I don’t want her to work anymore. I want her to live her best life.”

— Higgins on his relationship with his mother

Player comp: A.J. Green is a pretty lofty comparison, so let’s say that Higgins is a cross between Green and Mike Williams, style-wise.

Expected draft range: Late Round 1 or early Round 2

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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