Higgins especially reciprocated those feelings. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound wide receiver became a Bengals fan long before they drafted him and called it ‘surreal’ to be joining the organization – in large part because it means he can call A.J. Green a teammate now.
The Oak Ridge (Tenn.) native has been following Green’s career since he played at Georgia, modeling his own game after the way Green plays because of how similar they are in terms of size. When the Bengals drafted Green fourth overall in 2011, Higgins switched his NFL allegiances, and he was hoping his favorite team would draft him when he fell from the first round. He knew there was a connection after a meeting with Taylor at Clemson’s Pro Day, just before COVID-19 shutdowns.
“Being able to call myself a Cincinnati Bengal is crazy,” Higgins said. “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.”
Higgins led the national runner-up Tigers 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 Watkins.
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His championship mentality, as much as his playing ability, made Higgins intriguing for the Bengals.
“That’s been the standard for him is he plays for championships, and that’s why he went to Clemson,” Taylor said. “… I got a chance to meet with coach (Dabo) Swinney (at Clemson’s Pro Day) 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.”
Wilson could have been in the mix for the Bengals at No. 33 as well, but they were hopeful he would still be available later. Five wide receivers went on Day 1 (former Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson expressed on Twitter that Higgins should have been among them), and Michael Pittman went to the Colts right after the Bengals took Higgins.
Two of the last five picks in the second round were linebackers. Wilson was an easy decision, a four-year starter and three-time captain who finished the 2019 season with 104 tackles, 9.5 for loss, one sack, three interceptions and six pass breakups in 13 starts.
“He’s a guy we had highly rated,” Taylor said. “Our defensive staff certainly has been holding their breath all day because we got to know this kid at the Senior Bowl. He really impressed us playing on the other team there. … We followed him over the next four months and really just felt like he was a great fit. Again, all the things we’ve been talking about. He’s a three-down player, he’s physical, he can run, he’s got the right mentality. We’re just excited to add him to that side of the ball.”
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The Bengals have been thin at that position, despite adding veteran middle linebacker Josh Bynes in free agency, and Wilson likes that he is going somewhere he could make an impact right away. He was a cornerback in high school and plays like a hyrbid linebacker, so he could fill multiple roles in Lou Anarumo’s defense.
“I’m very (much) looking forward to the opportunity to coming in and earning the respect of the guys in the locker room and then just be able to fly around and make some plays,” Wilson said. “I’m going to play at a very high effort. Bengals fans can count on that. So, I’m going to give Cincinnati everything I have.”