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Top Receivers in NFL Draft: Tee Higgins

Tee Higgins, who was bribed to play football by an aunt, checks in at No. 6 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.
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Tee Higgins, who was bribed to play football by an aunt, checks in at No. 6 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.

If not for an aunt and high school coach, Clemson’s Tee Higgins would not be in position to be a first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

As a young boy, basketball was Higgins’ sport. To bribe her nephew to play football, she made him a deal. Play football and he would get a Hot Wheels car. Score a touchdown, he would get more Hot Wheels.

“I don’t have my collection anymore but I’m very interested in cars,” Higgins said at the Scouting Combine. “At a young age in boys club league, I didn’t want to be out there because it was so hot and I didn’t want to be out there with all the pads on, and my aunt bribed me saying that if you score at least two touchdowns I will buy you five hot wheel cars, and I was like ‘Oh, two, that’s it?’ So I went out there and scored two like every game. After every game, I would go straight to Walmart and get Hot Wheels cars.”

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At Oak Ridge (Tenn.) High School, he was Tennessee’s Mr. Football and a finalist for Mr. Basketball. For his high school football coach, the math was simple. Basketball players who are 6-foot-4 are a “dime a dozen.” Receivers at that height are a lot more uncommon.

So, Higgins followed the simple economics rule of supply and demand and turned his focus to football. It was a winning proposition. Higgins had a monster final season with 59 receptions for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns. He average 19.8 yards per catch. As a sophomore, he caught 59 passes for 936 yards and 12 scores.

With that, Higgins has put himself in position to author a happy ending to his tumultuous story.

“Back when I was younger, I was in and out of a house with my aunt, because my mom was addicted to drugs,” Higgins recalled. “She was in and out of prison, so I didn’t really grow up with her as much. Her boyfriend shot her twice – sorry it’s a hard story to tell, but 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, I don’t want her to work anymore. I want her to live her best life.”

What we like

As if being 6-foot-3 5/8 wasn’t enough of an advantage, his 34 1/8-inch arms were the second-longest among the receivers at the Combine. “Obviously, I’m a tall receiver and I’m going to win a 50-50 ball 80-20.” He ran his 40 in the mid-4.5s at Clemson’s pro day – back when there were pro days – but it’s not as if it mattered. On passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, he caught 15-of-23 passes and scored six touchdowns. “A lot of people thought I was a slow tall guy, but the film speaks for itself,” Higgins said. “I’m not slow, I’m a tall guy that’s got great speed. I model my game after guys like Julio Jones, A.J. Green. With Julio, he’s physical and got good long speed; with A.J., he goes up and attacks the ball at the highest point.” He also forced 12 missed tackles – five more than Baylor’s Denzel Mims, who might be battling Higgins to be the fifth receiver off the board.

What we don’t like

There’s not much to not like. In a less-loaded receiver class, he might be in the hunt to be the first receiver off the board. He’s not a great route-runner, but that’s kind of the way it goes for players of his height. He’s shown excellent hands, though his 8.6 percent drop rate was below average. 

Bill Huber's Top Receivers

No. 1: Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy

No. 2: Alabama’s Henry Ruggs

No. 3: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb

No. 4: LSU’s Justin Jefferson

No. 5: Baylor’s Denzel Mims

No. 6: Clemson’s Tee Higgins

No. 7: Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk

No. 8: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault

No. 9: USC’s Michael Pittman

No. 10: Texas’ Devin Duvernay

No. 11: Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool

No. 12: TCU’s Jalen Reagor

SI.com: The New Receiver U.