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Higgins Fits Bengals To A Tee As He Joins His Idol A.J. Green

191123-Higgins-Tee_reception (AP)
Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) runs against Virginia during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It was as if Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins willed the first pick in Friday night's second round to the Bengals.

First, he's been a Bengals fan for the nine years since they drafted wide receiver A.J. Green. And he even predicted four years ago in a tweet that he would meet Green and now he'll not only meet him but play with him.

"I actually model my game after him," Higgins said after the call came. "Just his grit. His jump ball and body control is unbelievable … Man, it's crazy. I was just talking about this to my good friend. 'I can wind up with the Bengals and be his teammate.' Now that this moment is here, it's surreal."

Second, at one of the last pro days before the draft process shut down last month, Higgins had what he thought was a great meeting with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.

"Once I talked to him, 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."

Third, the Cincinnati connection was cemented out in Los Angeles when he prepped for the NFL scouting combine with former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh, one of four Bengals with 500 catches, is also working with Bengals wide receiver John Ross, the starter opposite Green.

Houshmandzadeh quickly saw why Higgins has a rep for having terrific ball skills ("He can take it off the top of the helmet downfield," says one scout) and what Taylor calls "an incredible catch radius." At 6-4, 215 pounds, Higgins plays faster than that 4.5-second 40-yard time he ran at that pro day, Houshmandzadeh says, and that shows up in last year's stunning 19.8 yards per catch on 59 catches.

"(Ross) watched (Higgins) and said, 'Damn, he reminds me of A.J.,'" Houshmandzadeh said. "He's big and he can run routes and that's all you have to say. Not many big guys can routes coming out like that. We worked on it, but what really impresses me is how he can drive his hips and create separation. That's what running routes is all about. If he reaches his potential, he'll be mentioned when they talk about the three or four best receivers in the league."

The Bengals didn't draft Higgins to replace Green. They are faced with Green and Ross heading into their contract years and Green not playing a full game since the halfway point of 2018 because of injuries. But they see Green as a franchise great that can help mentor both Higgins and overall No. 1 pick Joe Burrow.

The selection of Higgins also marks a reunion of sorts with Burrow after they met in this past January's national championship game and LSU carried the day.

"You guys have seen him play," Higgins said. "Just seeing how he goes out there and he's so accurate with the ball. I'm just really looking forward to playing with Joe. The last time we played football, we were playing against each other.

"Being able to play with Joe, 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."

After grabbing the professor of locker room chemistry in Burrow, Taylor feels like in Higgins they've added another ingredient to help spice up the sauce culturally. He loves how Higgins makes tough catches being tough.

"He comes from an organization that has very high standards in everything they do and that's proven with the amount of national championships that they played for and won the last couple of years," said Taylor, who checked out Higgins with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

"I know that excellence is their standard, championships are their standard. He's consistent with the way he approaches the game. We did a lot of research on that. That's the mentality that we've started to build here and we've got to continue to build that and he fits the profile of what we want."

Check out the best images of wide receiver Tee Higgins after he was selected in the second round by the Bengals.

Houshmandzadeh says Higgins is going take to coaching.

"Good kid," Houshmandzadeh said. "Humble. Quiet. Not an introvert. But quiet."

Higgins willed the pick, but the Bengals made it.

"Just getting a call from my favorite team in the NFL is surreal," he said. "Being able to call myself a Cincinnati Bengal is crazy."

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