Ravens’ Reserve Predicted to Enjoy Breakout Season in ‘Aerial Circus’

Isaiah Likely

Getty A second-year Ravens' pass-catcher is predicted to enjoy a breakout season.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers will transform the Baltimore Ravens from a run-first offense to a pass-heavy attack, but it’s one of Lamar Jackson’s less-heralded targets who can be a breakout player in 2023.

That’s the prediction from NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who tips reserve tight end Isaiah Likely for a banner season. Brooks believes the second-year playmaker can take advantage of the attention paid to the bigger names among Jackson’s supporting cast: “With opponents focusing on passing-game weapons like Odell Beckham Jr., Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman and first-round pick Zay Flowers, Likely could produce big play after big play as the designated seam runner against two-deep coverage.”

Likely can thrive in what Brooks calls “an aerial circus under new coordinator Todd Monken.” While the Ravens are unlikely to go from buttoned up to completely wide open on offense, Monken will let Jackson air it out more often, good news for a pass-catcher as versatile and dynamic as Likely.

Second-Year Pro Showed Exciting Glimpses as a Rookie

It’s easy to imagine Likely taking on a bigger role in a more expansive offense after the exciting glimpses he showed as a rookie. The 23-year-old ended his debut campaign by making eight catches for 103 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 18.

Likely played a season-high 69 offensive snaps in Cincinnati, per Pro Football Reference, and he usually rewarded the Ravens for giving him a decent-sized workload. Like when No. 80 played 51 snaps against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8, and made six grabs for 77 yards and his first pro touchdown.

Another touchdown reception followed a week late against the New Orleans Saints, when Likely played 52 snaps. While he showed a propensity for getting open inside the red zone, the Ravens should expand how they use Likely in another area.

Play Action the Key to Freeing Young Star

Monken may move the Ravens away from the run-first mentality of his predecessor Greg Roman, but the new play-caller knows the value of using the threat of the run to open up the pass. That usually means heavy doses of play-action passing, with Beckham’s arrival expected to help the Ravens become a league leader in the category.

OBJ isn’t the only receiver set to benefit from an emphasis on the play-action game. It’s also an area where Likely has thrived dating back to his collegiate days at Coastal Carolina, per PFF College.

The Ravens are changing their philosophy on offense, but defenses still need to respect the run. Especially since Jackson’s mobility will remain a threat, while J.K. Dobbins can also make big plays on the ground.

Dissecting teams with play action is one way for Monken to get Likely more involved. Another is to move him around formations. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Likely is essentially a big-bodied wide receiver and should line up outside more often.

Although Brooks predicts Likely to dominate in the seams, the Ravens have other options to work the inside. Credible options like All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, who has been Jackson’s go-to target for most of his career.

Andrews will continue to be a force between the numbers, while Flowers can also be a game-breaker from the slot, with “several NFL scouts” anticipating that’s where the 22nd-overall pick will find success, according to NFL Rookie Watch.

Having Flowers and Andrews line up inside would naturally force defenses to focus most of their resources between the hashmarks, leaving Likely to be a size mismatch in one-on-one situations on the outside.

If Monke does expand the playbook as anticipated, he’ll need to make sure there are enough catches to go around. That hasn’t been a problem in recent seasons, but the Ravens are now more than well-stocked with Beckham, Flowers, Andrews and Likely being supported by Nelson Agholor, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay.

The long queue for targets is one reason why Heavy’s Josh Reed doesn’t believe the Ravens need to enter the sweepstakes to sign five-time Pro-Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins. His arrival would surely cut into Likely’s ability to make good on Brooks’ prediction.

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