Ravens Ready to Unleash ‘Nightmare’ on NFL Defenses

Isaiah Likely

Getty The Ravens are ready to unleash a "nightmare" upon NFL defenses.

Offense isn’t often a strength for the Baltimore Ravens, even with dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson on the field. That could be about to change, though, with the Ravens ready to unleash a formation one NFL writer has described as a potential “nightmare” for pro defenses.

Those bad dreams for defensive coordinators feature an exciting rookie dominating during preseason. His high level of production during exhibition games make this first-year talent look like the perfect partner for an All-Pro who is Jackson’s favortie target.

Rookie Set to Be “Nightmare” for Opposing Coverage

Isaiah Likely had already got tongues wagging and pulses racing with his four-catch, 44-yard effort against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Likely was even better during Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

His efforts prompted Around the NFL’s Bobby Kownack to believe “Baltimore has the makings of a two-tight end nightmare.” Kownack detailed how Likely was the Ravens’ go-to weapon in the passing game against the Cards.

His featured role resulted in major production: “Six other Ravens had one reception apiece during the first half. Baltimore’s newest weapon collected eight. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was locked in on Likely for good reason. The rookie showed savvy far beyond his years, consistently sitting down in the soft spot of Arizona’s zone coverage when necessary, but also using crisp routes to come open against single defenders. On the Ravens’ last drive of the first half, which started at their own 20-yard line, Likely accounted for 67 yards on five catches and hauled in a touchdown in a crowd of four Cardinals. Likely finished his night with eight receptions on eight targets for 100 yards (52 coming after the catch) and one score.”

The numbers are impressive, but it’s the implications for the Ravens’ offense that are truly exciting. Likely outperforming his draft status as a fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina can mitigate concerns about a problem position and also help Jackson return to his 2019 MVP form.

Likely and Mark Andrews Partnership Inevitable

Jackson “has shown a tendency to favor tight ends,” according to Kownack, a trend that helped Mark Andrews enjoy a career year in 2021. The latter made 107 catches for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Andrews hadn’t been so effective since 2019, when he caught a career-high 10 scoring passes from Jackson. The quarterback was named NFL MVP “when three of the Ravens’ top five pass catchers were tight ends,” per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic.

A similar formula looks set to be repeated in 2022, with Andrews not only being joined by Likely, but also by the latter’s fellow fourth-rounder Charlie Kolar. It’s been tough sledding for the latter, who has had to deal with offseason sports hernia surgery.

Kolar’s development has been delayed, but his arrival, along with Likely, is great news for Andrews. The rookies should ensure Andrews won’t see too many double teams in coverage.

Putting at least two tight ends on the field at once will also help the Ravens maintain the strength of their running game. Tight ends who can block are crucial to the ground-based schemes offensive coordinator Greg Roman loves, but the Ravens needn’t worry about Likely’s relatively slight frame.

He’s 6’4″ and around 235-240 pounds, but it won’t matter because the Ravens “use their tight ends as pullers, according to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus. He explained to his PFF colleague Ari Meirov how when Likely’s “on the move, he can block.”

Away from the running game, Likely may also help the Ravens overcome still obvious deficiencies at wide receiver.

Tight Ends Will Compensate for WR Issues

General manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh are gambling on potential over production at wide receiver. DeCosta traded Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to the Cardinals on draft day and has since only added former Kansas City Chiefs speedster Demarcus Robinson after he was cut by the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason.

Robinson has joined an inexperienced group of wideouts featuring second-year player Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace. The incumbent quartet combined for just 97 catches and a mere three touchdowns last season.

The longer the Ravens continue to shun a free-agent market that still includes Odell Beckham Jr., Emmanuel Sanders and T.Y. Hilton, the more it looks like they’re happy with what they have at receiver.

It’s a risk Roman can mitigate by featuring Likely alongside Andrews in the passing game. It should be easy since Likely is basically a wide receiver in a tight end’s body who can be moved anywhere along a formation.

Those move skills have been evident so far during preseason, with Likely spending a lot of time in the slot. He was aligned there on 16 of his 27 snaps vs. the Titans, per Establish The Run co-founder Adam Levitan:

In all, Likely has played 25 of 42 snaps from the slot through two games. He can obviously be a speed mismatch for linebackers or a size and physical problem for defensive backs when working from the inside.

Likely should be even more effective when split out wide where he’d put defenses in a bind. Would coordinators use a cornerback to match up on the edge or shuffle linebackers or safeties out to the perimeter?

Those are just a few of the nightmares defenses will face against combinations of Likely, Andrews and Kolar this season.

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