Now that this disappointing season is over, it’s time to take a look at the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades for the year. At times, this unit provided hope and looked to be trending upwards. Other times, it seemed like some of these guys didn’t even bother to suit up. Losing stud rookie quarterback Joe Burrow hurt productivity, but excuses can’t be made. Let’s see how these Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades helped or hurt the team en route to a forgettable 4-11-1 season.
Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers’ Grades for the 2020 Season
Before we get into it, these grades are based on a multitude of things. Productivity, general impact, and whether or not they lived up to expectations going into the year attributed to these marks.
John Ross: F
2 receptions, 17 yards, 0 touchdowns
Oh boy. Before the season, the Bengals declined to pick up Ross’s fifth-year option. It was expected because Ross had yet to complete a full season healthy and never even came close to his expectations as the ninth-overall pick in 2017.
The speedster started Week 1 and played 84% of the team’s offensive snaps. His season total in receptions and yards were all accounted for in this game. After that, he went down with an injury and never seemed to truly get healthy.
Between healthy scratches, illnesses, and injuring his foot in practice, Ross’ time in Cincinnati seems to be over. He gets an “F” for this season. With the team declining his option, it was hoped that he would be motivated and ready to prove himself. As evident by the mounting healthy scratches that reminded fans of his rookie year and butting heads with Marvin Lewis, this was not the case.
Mike Thomas: D
13 receptions, 132 yards, 1 touchdown
Next up on the Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades is Mike Thomas. No, not Michael Thomas.
To start the year, Thomas was able to fight his way into the rotation as Ross’ struggles continued. He even managed to find the endzone during a wild shootout with the Cleveland Browns.
However, since Week 7, Thomas has accrued more Unsportsmanlike Penalties than receptions. He was the epicenter of the infamous benches-clearing brawl with the Miami Dolphins. As a gunner on punt team, Thomas hit the Dolphins’ returner early on back-to-back punts.
To add insult to injury (literally), Thomas committed an unnecessary Offensive Pass Interference penalty in Week 17 that erased Higgins’ 41-yard reception that had history attached to it. Sure, it’s not his fault Higgins got hurt, but he erased the biggest play of the first half.
Auden Tate: C-
14 receptions, 150 yards, 0 touchdowns
Possibly one of the most exciting players in the unit, Auden Tate’s season was also cut short due to a shoulder injury.
Earning starts in Week 3 and Week 8, Tate is the first “starter” on this list. All in all, he did not produce much in 2020. His best game came in that Week 8 start against the Tennessee Titans. He converted seven targets for seven receptions and 65 yards.
Tate will be back in 2021, so expect a decent amount of fan hype around him. He’s extremely fun to watch as he can pull in ridiculous catches that would be way outside any normal receiver’s catch radius. He’s not a starter, but he’s a good substitute for a Z receiver.
A.J. Green: B-
47 receptions, 523 yards, 2 touchdowns
Could we have seen the last of A.J. Green in Cincinnati? Even in a disappointing year, Green managed to stay healthy for a full slate of games for the first time since the 2017 season. Before the season, I had Green as the greatest Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver of all-time. I’ll continue to stand by this, despite the fact that he just came up short in terms of touchdowns and yards.
There were a few moments during the year where it seemed Green had given up. He wasn’t the first choice for Burrow on plays because they didn’t have an off-season to work. There were some effort questions.
Finishing only one score away from tying the record, the Bengals tried their hardest to get him another in Week 17. Unfortunately, Brandon Allen threw two interceptions in the endzone targeting Green.
I’d be okay with bringing Green back on a one-year deal to see if he can get some rapport with Burrow. I understand why they wouldn’t, of course. A.J. Green is a Bengals legend and I wish him nothing but the best in whatever comes next.
Tyler Boyd: B+
79 receptions, 841 yards, 4 touchdowns
With 110 targets, Tyler Boyd was WR1 this year. He did miss one game and was knocked out early in another, so his productivity took a slight dip.
Boyd lived in the slot and thrived off of favorable matchups. On three occasions, Boyd was targeted at least ten times and went off for 100+ yards in two of them. The offense was quite anemic this year. If not for an atrocious offensive line allowing the defense to terroize whichever quarterback the Bengals used, Boyd would have attained that 1,000-yard mark for the third straight year.
He’s a highlight machine and was often reliable on third down. Give him and Burrow another off-season to work and get an even stronger relationship and watch out. He could very well top the Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades in 2021.
Tee Higgins: A
67 receptions, 908 yards, 6 touchdowns
A surprise, but a welcome one to be sure was Tee Higgins in his rookie season. Heading into Week 17, Higgins and Boyd were tied with 107 targets through the season. Unfortunately, he tweaked his hamstring on a massive 41-yard reception that was called back and he left the game early.
Higgins only needed one reception to break Cris Collinsworth‘s rookie Bengals record and he’ll finish tied. He also finished 123 yards short of A.J. Green’s rookie yard record as well.
All season, the second-round pick flashed brilliantly. He eclipsed 100 yards twice on the year and was the only Bengals receiver with a multi-touchdown game. He and Burrow had an almost natural rapport. It took even more skill to move seamlessly after Burrow went down and the Bengals juggled two more quarterbacks.
Nobody expected Higgins to step right up and nearly take control of the offense, but here we are. It’s not outlandish to think that he has played well enough to be considered the second-best receiver in the 2020 class. It’s no wonder why he’s got the highest mark of the Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades. Look for another successful 2021 for Tee Higgins. 9+85=7 is alive and well.
There’s Work To Be Done
There were only three receivers who suited up for the Bengals who were remotely productive in 2020. These Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers’ grades reflect that. For 2021, only Higgins, Boyd, and Tate are under contract. The team will likely look to add at least one receiver in free agency (come on down Curtis Samuel, Chris Godwin, or Corey Davis) and one through the draft.
The Bengals’ super bowl window is hardly open. They’ve got some serious flaws all around the team. Don’t let that distract you from the fact that the Bengals only have two proven receivers under contract for next year. Adding at least two new faces has to be on the to-do list. Sure, Alex Erickson (2021 FA) and Stanley Morgan were also on this team, but they were not nearly productive enough to mention.