The Baltimore Ravens had six picks in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. They began with the hulking tackle Daniel Faalele. The Ravens dove back into the Alabama defensive back well for Jalyn Armour-Davis. At pick 128, they nabbed Charlie Kolar, a tight end from Iowa State. Two picks later, the Ravens had a new punter in Penn State’s Jordan Stout.
No matter how good these four players might be in their NFL careers, the fifth of Baltimore’s fourth-rounders might be the best. His name is Isaiah Likely.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts prospect stands in at an imposing 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. However, concerns about Likely’s frame and 40-time tanked his draft prospects. Once considered a Day 2 pick, Likely slipped into the fourth round after a less-than-ideal 4.80-second 40-yard dash.
Slower tight ends can function in the NFL, but they usually have to have strong blocking chops, elite hands, and immense physicality. Likely profiles more as a yards-after-the-catch threat and not much of a blocker. However, this disconnect could be dispelled immediately by flipping on Likely’s film at Coastal Carolina, the Senior Bowl, or early in his Ravens’ tenure.
Football is not always played in 40-yard straight lines. Even the Ravens’ incumbent superstar tight end Mark Andrews ran just a 4.67-second 40-yard dash. That has not stopped Andrews from making explosive plays in the Ravens’ offense.
Likely to be a Backup
Sitting behind the reigning All-Pro at your position is not exactly ideal for immediate production. Andrews is also early in a big-money extension. However, Likely and Andrews fill two different roles in the offense. Andrews can do the traditional tight end responsibilities such as in-line blocking and producing from tight formations. Likely will be used as a big slot or even perimeter weapon for the Ravens. The Ravens will almost certainly be among the NFL’s leaders in 12 personnel, getting both Andrews and Likely on the field.
Likely is a glorified receiver, and the Ravens will use him as such. He is not built to be blocking in the trenches like his teammates Andrews and Nick Boyle. He can be a competent move blocker from backfield alignments, but the Ravens have a multi-time Pro Bowler making those blocks anyways. Likely will live separated from the offensive line, causing mismatches with whoever guards him.
A Secret Strength
Historically, the Ravens have been one of the best organizations in the NFL at putting their players in a situation that maximizes their talents. Rather than forcing a round peg into a square hole, the Ravens build a round hole for the round peg. Likely is no different. If the preseason is any indication, the Ravens are letting Likely be the best version of himself by letting him play on the perimeter.
There are certainly flaws in Likely’s game, namely his blocking, but Likely cannot be exposed as a blocker if he is not asked to block. Likely will be a change-of-pace weapon in the Ravens’ receiver corps. He is also an excellent fit with Lamar Jackson‘s biggest strengths as a passer. Likely will be a menace between the hashes, overlapping with Jackson’s hot zone (to use a basketball analogy).
Many fans and analysts point to the Ravens’ wide receivers as a weakness. While they are correct, they are ignoring the league’s top tight end room. The Ravens used 11 personnel on 43% of their plays in 2021, the third-lowest mark in the league. The Ravens have been below 50% in 11 personnel in each of the last three years while the league average has been around 60%.
Likely opens the door for the Ravens to use more 12 and 22 personnel, getting the best players on the field as much as possible. Since 2018, the Ravens have used 22 personnel on 13% of plays. That mark is four times the league average, and no other team is over 10%. The Ravens could flirt with 20% in 2022.
Likely might not be a viable player for fantasy football, but he is likely to make plays and help the Ravens inch back toward the playoffs.
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images