COURTESY OF CINCINNATI BENGALS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
With Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins, you have two former college national champions. Did that factor into the evaluation process on these first two picks?
"Yeah. That's been the standard for (Higgins), is that he plays for championships, and that's why he went to Clemson. When I went down to Clemson's pro day with a couple of our coaches — it was really the last day before everything got shut down — I got a chance to meet with (Clemson head coach Dabo) Swinney for about an hour. We really talked specifically about Tee. He just raved about him (and) the energy he's going to bring to the receiver room. He's the same guy every single day, so again, we're just going to keep adding weapons as best we can, and he's certainly a weapon we get to add to our arsenal."
Did you entertain any trade offers for the 33rd pick?
"We were open. It's good to have those conversations. You don't want to be immediate (with a 'no') and turn everything down, but at the end of the day, there's a guy there (in Higgins) that you can't pass up on that's going to make us better. We felt like we had to stand pat and take the pick."
Was this pick also about you having confidence in your offensive line, as there were some quality players at those positions available on the board?
"We just felt like Tee (was the guy). We knew in this draft there was a chance we'd add a receiver. You just don't know where. It just so happened that a guy we really like was there at pick 33. Certainly, if he wasn't there, maybe the thing goes in a different direction, but he was there. We have a high regard for him. We know he can come in and help us and make some big plays, and it felt like we could not pass up on him."
How important was it to pair Higgins with Burrow so they could grow as NFL players together?
"Well, I mean it doesn't really matter who your quarterback is — you want him to have as many weapons as possible, and we just feel like we've added another good one to the group. So, it's a good problem to have (and) to sort out, where the targets are going to go, (and) who's going to be on the field. Those are great issues to have, and a lot of great offenses have (all) those weapons at their disposal, so we're excited to get him in the building."
Did you talk to Burrow about Higgins at all?
"Not specifically about Tee, no. That didn't come up. I know that they know each other and have been around each other a little bit, but we didn't specifically talk to him about it."
ESPN mentioned Burrow and Tee had worked out together pre-draft. Was that a regular occurrence?
"No. Those guys weren't out in California that long. They were there for a little bit and then it got cut short, so I know there were a couple of groups that were switching in-and-out over the course of the time. I don't know how many workouts they had together — sometimes that can be a little bit overblown in saying they worked out a lot together. Again, we felt comfortable with the pick as an organization (and) that he's going to come in (here). My receivers coach spent a little bit of time with him. I got a chance to talk to him a lot at the pro day. Our scouting department had really high grades on him as well, so we all felt really good going into today that (he was) a guy we needed to add."
There was a lot of talk pre-draft about how deep the wide receiver group is, and then six were picked in the first round. Was there a feeling the best of the best were starting to be picked?
"Well, I think with him specifically, we just felt so strongly about how we needed to get him. It doesn't really have much to do with a bunch of guys that went last night — who's going to be left a round from now. It was just more Tee Higgins is there, we have high regard for him, (and) we need to add him to our team."
What separated him from some of the other guys? Another receiver was picked right after him.
"(He has) excellent hands, a great catch radius. Again, like I said (before), the consistency (is there) every single day, not just from game to game, but from practice to practice (in) talking with their staff. He's going to score points down the field. If the ball is in the air, it's his. And he's got that mentality where if he catches a ball on that short to intermediate stuff, he doesn't think he's going down — he's going to score. That's a trait that's hard to coach. Sometimes that's innate for guys (when) they come out of high school and they go to college, and now that will transfer to the NFL. Again, there are a lot of great traits that we liked about Tee."
What do you want to do in the third round, or perhaps move back into the second round?
"I don't think you wipe any option off the table. But again, we go through our list and we'll see who's available there in the third round, (and) we'll make the best decision for us. I do feel good that we haven't pigeonholed ourselves in saying, 'We've got to take this certain position.' We've got a ways to go to get to that point. I'm sure we'll start talking about it as these picks start to come off the board. We spent all morning talking about it as well, and it'll be fun now to see how it all shakes out. But there's a lot of good value on the board right now that we think will be there at the top of the third round."
How challenging was it to evaluate this class and anticipating how other teams would as well?
"I really think it was as difficult to sort through all that as it's been in a couple years, in (terms of) how teams are going to view each guy. They (the wide receivers) each have a different set of traits that fit a different team differently. You don't know who's going to be gone or who's going to be there, but again, we feel really good about Tee's production and how's he going to fit for us, the mentality he's going to bring to the receiver room, and to our organization as a whole. But like you said, there are a lot of quality receivers that are in this draft, and each team is going to see each one of them a little different and have a slightly different order, I'd imagine."
Yesterday, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said whoever you took at pick No. 33 would be in consideration for a starting spot. Do you feel like Tee could be a starter when the season starts in September?
"Yeah. Like I said last night, I don't want to make any predictions on that stuff, but you certainly feel like the guy has a role immediately (when) he comes in, as long as he performs up to the abilities we know he has and puts the work in. There's going to be opportunities for him there. And again, it's not a problem to have a lot of weapons. They don't all need to play 60 plays a game. Sometimes, it's better when you reduce the amount of the snaps those guys take. Last year, our receivers had to take too many reps, and as the season wears on that affects them. So it's good to keep adding weapons to the room so that when guys are out there running a route, they're out there at 100 percent, and they feel fresh and can put their best on the field. The receivers in that room should feel really good about this because, again, it allows everyone to play up to the best of their abilities."
Does this affect anything long-term you want to do with A.J. Green?
"No. This is just adding another weapon to the group. Again, we really like A.J. Green and look forward to coaching him this year. We want him here for a long time. This in no way, shape or form affects what we think about A.J."
What is the mentality Higgins will bring to the room? "He comes from an organization that has a very high standard for everything that they do, and they've proven that with the amount of national championships they've played for and won over the last couple of years. I know that excellence is their standard. Championships are their standard, and that's what he's used to being held to every single day. He's consistent with the way he's approached the game. We did a lot of research on that and again, that's the mentality we've started to build here, and we've got to continue to build and expound upon. He fits the profile of the type of guys we're looking for."
What was it like for you and the coaching staff at the end of last night and up to this moment leading up to this pick?
"We didn't talk about it last night, to be honest with you. We all tried to get some sleep. It's difficult, knowing your mind is racing. But now you get to see what the board's going to look like. I know I had a hard time going to sleep last night, but you wake up fresh this morning. You have a chance to visit with the entire organization. We talked about all the scenarios, and this is the one we all felt very good about. So, it's good. This won't happen every year, where we get to have the first pick of the day, but it does allow you to really talk thoroughly through everything – not that we haven't been doing that. We've been doing that the last couple of weeks, so some of it's a little bit redundant. But we just want to make sure we're all on the same page, and we were. So we're all excited about this pick."
Burrow said it would be great if you added a receiver in the early rounds. Is that something you take into consideration in making selections, so you can support him with a player in the same draft class?
I'll be honest – if he said that quote, I missed it. I tried to listen to most of his press conference last night, but that didn't factor into anything we would do. We've put in a lot of leg work as far as the scouting department and coaches (are concerned). We feel very confident in the decisions we'll make, and so I know that our players in the building trust that we're going to make the right decisions to help them play their best. But it's good to have a young quarterback come in the building, and a young receiver come in the building. But again, we just want to continue to add weapons for whoever is rolled out there on offense."
How surprised were you that Higgins was available at the start of Round 2?
"I certainly thought there was a great chance he was gone at the end of the first round, and that we wouldn't have a chance to talk about him. There are a lot of good players that are still on the board at this moment. I guess you can't say that you're surprised there was somebody there you were going to love, and Tee happened to be that guy."
Were there not that many offers to trade with so many talented players on the board? Does the depth of the draft factor into those conversations?
"I'm not sure how else to say it, but it was just all about Tee, to be honest with you. There was just a guy there that we felt really good about that's going to help us immediately and we didn't score enough points on offense last year. We didn't get enough stops on defense, so you go and add a bunch of players in free agency on defense. And so far in the draft, we've added two guys on offense. We just feel like we're helping ourselves improve in a lot of areas and get better at some things we didn't do so well last fall."
How anxious are you to have your receiving corps on the field working together?
"That would be great if we could do it on May 18, as is scheduled right now. But again, you've got to be realistic. We don't know what it's going to look like, so we've just got to be patient and trust that when that time comes, these guys are going to be putting in the work the best way that they can in whatever space they have available to them. We'll continue to teach virtually and tell them how we want these routes run and what the depths are, and coach them as best we can that way and trust they're going to spend their own time to perfect the craft physically."
Did you talk to Higgins' high school coaches as well during this pre-draft process?
"No, I didn't personally. Our scouts do a great job of talking to a lot of guys in the area. Specifically for me, I just talked to Dabo (Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney)."
You had your family with you for these first two picks. What's it like to have them there with you for this experience?
"It's unique. It may never happen again. So you could see all the guys with families last night were taking advantage of it. It's rare. I think it's appropriate. Everyone's at home. No one can be with you, other than Wilson (Bengals network administrator Medder) from our IT department. He's right here with me, but the rest is just family. They get to enjoy the moment, and they don't get in the way. They know how to handle the situation the right way, and so it's nice to get a chance to get them in the room and enjoy it. You saw Duke's (Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin) family on TV. It's funny, because I've got Duke on Zoom, and I can only see his face. I didn't know until I saw on ESPN that he's got his whole crew hiding behind him. It feels like I've been on Zoom with them for about the last 48 hours, and I had no idea. It's fun to enjoy those moments. It's important. It's appropriate, and so we tried to make the most of it. You won't see them again for the rest of the night, but I thought I could sneak them in there for that first pick."
Who did your son, Brooks, want you to take at pick No. 33?
"Brooks had some unique trade situations that he was looking to try to manufacture. But ultimately, I told him about 20 minutes before it happened, 'Hey, if you could pick a receiver, who would you take?' And it was Tee Higgins. I said, 'That's a good pick right there.' So it worked out."
You mentioned a lot of traits you liked about Higgins. Was there one that sold you on him above all others the most? "His ability to catch the ball. It's funny, when I first came into the league, a receivers coach told me that it's hard to find guys that are tough and that can catch. That sounds like such a strange statement, but you watch and there's a lot of receivers in the league that don't have both those qualities. Tee is one those guys who's willing to sacrifice his body as he goes across the middle. He's a tough guy, and they have a mentality of toughness there (at Clemson) — that's why they play for championships. And he can catch. His catch radius is spectacular – if the ball's in his area, he's coming down with it. I think he was the top receiver coming out of high school when he went to Clemson. There's no surprise there, and now he's one of the top receivers coming into this draft. He's certainly got those two traits, and he's got the ability to learn. We know we can move him around and play him out where we want, and he's going to be able to pick it up. So we're excited to have him."