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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.

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.”

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. 

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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 The New Receiver U.