The first half of Sunday night's preseason game became the Isaiah Likely show.
The Ravens rookie tight end showed out on national television during a dazzling two quarters, catching eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore's 24-17 victory in Arizona. Likely's talent has been obvious since the fourth-round pick arrived at rookie camp, and now the world is seeing that he's a rookie to watch.
In addition to his savvy route-running and deceptive speed, the 6-foot-4, 241-pound Likely is a load to bring down. A big chunk of his 100 yards came after the catch, breaking tackles and leaving Cardinals defenders in his wake. Likely had already displayed his soft hands on many occasions, but his running after the catch Sunday night showed another way in which he can torment defenders.
"Everybody wants to be able to catch the ball, but it's really what you can do after the catch," Likely said. "That's something I've preached whether it's in game or even in practice. Having that in-game feel so that when I get in-game, that's not the first time I've ever done it."
His big night began on Baltimore's opening drive, when he jumped to catch Tyler Huntley's high pass, then muscled away from Arizona safety Deionte Thompson for a 20-yard gain. Thompson had a chance to tackle Likely right after the catch, but Thompson looked overmatched trying to corral the bigger Likely. Thompson went for a ride and his attempt to strip the ball from Likely was futile.
"We expected him to be a really good player," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "To be honest with you, I'd say he's exactly what we expected. He's had some opportunities, he's made the most of them. He asks good questions and goes to work every day, he doesn't get flustered. He makes a mistake, he cleans it up."
Likely's next major moment was a 31-yard catch-and-run that displayed more of his strength. He ran right through an attempted tackle by Arizona safety James Wiggins and kept rumbling downfield. Then Likely made Thompson miss with a nice wiggle move and kept rolling. Jace Whitaker barely brought down Likely at the 10-yard line to keep him from scoring.
Two plays later, Likely scored on an 8-yard catch, losing linebacker Joe Walker with an outside-inside move, then finding the soft spot between Thompson and Ben Nieman to give Huntley a throwing window. It was the kind of play that showed Likely's potential to be a serious red zone threat, navigating his way through tight quarters.
Likely had four catches for 44 yards in the preseason opener and he's been making plays day-after-day during training camp. Soaking up knowledge from All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews has only accelerated Likely's development, as he discussed during “The Lounge” podcast. After watching this game, defensive coordinators around the NFL will have more to think about, knowing the Ravens have added another lethal tight end weapon to their attack.
"It's just showing the Ravens that the promises I made when they drafted me, I was going to keep," Likely said. "As long as the front office and the Ravens are happy."