Tee Higgins is an Underrated Fantasy Football Target in 2021
When a new, flashy object is presented to us, we often forget about the thing that it is replacing. Once the Cincinnati Bengals selected Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick of the NFL Draft, he immediately became the focal point of discussion. This has led to him skyrocketing up ADP charts, currently being drafted 47th overall as the WR22 on Underdog Fantasy. However, it is critical that we do not neglect sophomore receiver Tee Higgins. The Clemson wideout had a stellar rookie season in 2020, and while he doesn’t have the same level of hype that Chase does, Higgins is a phenomenal talent who has the opportunity to put up big numbers this year. Here’s a look at why Higgins could be a steal at his current draft price of WR24.
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An Underrated Rookie Season
Perhaps overshadowed by Justin Jefferson’s outstanding rookie season, Higgins quietly put up great numbers last year. He finished with 908 receiving yards on 67 receptions, both of which ranked third amongst rookies (behind Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb). He also commanded a 19.1% target share and finished as the WR30 in half-PPR leagues.
He would likely have had an even better season had Joe Burrow not gone down in week 11 with a torn ACL and MCL. In the nine games Higgins and Burrow played together (excluding Week 1 where Higgins only played 22% of snaps), Higgins amassed 43 receptions for 629 receiving yards and was the WR19 in this stretch. He was on a 16-game pace for 1,118 receiving yards, which would have ranked 13th in the entire NFL. Higgins also was incredibly consistent during this nine-game span, finishing with fewer than 10 fantasy points just twice.
Exaggerated Volume Concerns
In fantasy football, volume is king, and one of the biggest knocks against Higgins this offseason has been that he will not see enough volume due to the arrival of the aforementioned Chase. However, these concerns are largely exaggerated, and if he remains healthy, Higgins should at the very least match the 108 targets he saw last year. The primary reason for this is the number of pass catchers that left the Bengals this offseason. A.J. Green, who had a whopping 104 targets last season, is now on the Cardinals. Running back Giovani Bernard had 59 targets but was released by the Bengals in April (he is now on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). As a whole, the Bengals have 194 vacated targets and did not bring in any pass catchers that might take those targets, aside from Chase. This means that even if Chase sees an abnormally large share of the pie as a rookie, there will be plenty of pieces left for both Higgins and slot receiver Tyler Boyd.
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In addition to these vacated targets, the Bengals will likely have to throw the ball a lot this year. Their defense was poor last season, finishing bottom 10 in yards allowed, yards per offensive play allowed and turnovers generated. As a result, the Bengals frequently found themselves either down big or in shootout situations, which led to Joe Burrow having the second-most pass attempts in the NFL before his injury. While they made some promising moves in free agency (signing Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton), the Bengals defense still has question marks and will be relying on inexperienced players to make an impact. It is hard to imagine them finishing as a top-10 defense this year, meaning they will likely continue to have a pass-heavy offense—DraftKings sportsbook has their win total set at just 6.5. This bodes well for Higgins and the rest of the Bengals wide receivers, as they’d be given even more opportunities to produce.
Room for Improvement
One area where Higgins should improve this season is in the touchdown department. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Higgins has the body built to be a contested-catch-winning red zone machine. Despite this, he saw just 10 red-zone targets last season, which ranked 40th among wide receivers. In his second year in the offense with a full offseason to learn, Higgins should improve on that number and have more scoring opportunities. Additionally, with A.J. Green’s departure, Higgins has a chance to slide into the X-Receiver role for the Bengals, which should lead to more downfield targets and big-play potential—according to PlayerProfiler, Green had an average depth of target of 13.2, which was a team-high. It wouldn't be a stretch for Higgins to get there after averaging 11.8 yards of depth on his targets last season. Even if Chase sees significant snaps at the X-Receiver position, Higgins will still be lined up on the outside and face lots of single-man coverage.
The Bottom Line
- Tee Higgins had a standout rookie season, and with a healthy Joe Burrow, will build off his strong start.
- Despite the addition of Ja’Marr Chase, the number of vacated targets in the Bengals offense means that Higgins should still have plenty of opportunities to produce.
- With the defense not expected to be great, there will be even more passing opportunities for the Bengals.
- Higgins's archetype as a ball-winning wideout should hopefully lead to him getting more red-zone targets. He will also be frequently lined up on the outside in light of A.J. Green's departure and will have opportunities to dominate in single coverage. He has legitimate top-20 receiver potential and is a steal at his current draft price.