Rookie Class Shines in Win Over Cardinals, With Isaiah Likely Leading the Charge
The Ravens' rookie class dominated in all three phases of their game against the Arizona Cardinals, winning 24-17.
Tight end Isaiah Likely led the charge, drawing national attention for his performance. After totaling 100 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions, pundits are setting the bar high for Likely, starting with former tight end Greg Olsen.
"They can't tackle this guy," Olsen said on the FOX broadcast. "You couldn't stop him in zone, so they bring a little pressure and go man [and] they still don't have an answer for him. And then the run after catch. [He] looks like a young Darren Waller after the catch. This kid is super impressive."
Being compared to Waller (a Pro Bowler her has put up two 1,000-yard seasons) is high praise but SportsCenter's Max McGee has greater aspirations for the budding 22-year-old: a Pro Bowl nod in his first season.
Other outlets poured praise on the rookie, as a national audience saw what Ravens fans and media have been buzzing about for weeks.
NFL.com's Bobby Kownack: "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."
Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer: "Not many tight ends ever have a preseason like this. The fourth-round pick continued his breakout August with a performance so dominant it seemed inconceivable that Likely was bullying Sun Belt Conference defenders just over a year ago."
CBS Sports Cody Benjamin: "Looking for a sleeper who's Likely to have a bigger impact on the Ravens' offense this year than expected? A guy who's Likely to warrant some red-zone targets from Lamar Jackson? And maybe even Likely to share snaps with Mark Andrews? We can't get enough Likely after the rookie fourth-rounder went off with eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals, consistently finding or creating space against Arizona's defense."
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah publicly kicked himself for lowering Likely down his draft board.
But Likely wasn't the only rookie receiving recognition.
Damarion "Pepe" Williams
Josh Ross: The Next UDFA Linebacker Turned Starter?
Over the years, the Ravens have produced numerous quality linebackers who began their NFL career as undrafted rookies. They may have found the next one in linebacker Josh Ross.
With the Ravens still sorting out their depth at inside linebacker, Ross has an opportunity to make the roster, and PFF saw him as one of the top players in Sunday's exhibition.
"Undrafted free agent rookie Josh Ross earned his second straight 90.0-plus PFF grade, pending review, after allowing only nine yards on three catches in coverage. Ross also tallied two run stops," PFF wrote.
Though many are positive regarding Ross, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec was more cautious in regard to Ross earning a roster spot.
"The Ravens probably could find room to keep a fifth inside linebacker, but it still seems like four is more likely. If that is the case, Ross certainly is pushing Kristian Welch for that spot," Zrebiec wrote. "If special teams is the biggest factor in that competition, Welch probably has nothing to worry about. If it's not, Ross is making a strong case that he's the better fit on defense."
Tyler Huntley 'Will Be a Starting NFL QB'
After an impressive performance by quarterback Tyler Huntley deemed "masterful" by Head Coach John Harbaugh, the backup is once more being called a deserved starter in the NFL.
Over the past two preseason games, Huntley has completed 29-of-32 attempts for 238 yards and two touchdowns. His near surgical precision has Zrebiec expecting teams be keeping an eye on Huntley, but for the 2023-2024 season.
"While Huntley still has plenty to prove, I imagine there will be quite a few quarterback-needy teams watching what the Ravens will do with Jackson's backup next offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "Huntley is set to be a restricted free agent."
He also had one of the most entertaining cadences to try and make a defense jump offsides in recent memory.
ESPN Rates Jackson the No. 1 Runner Among QBs, Snubs His Decision Making
For the second-straight year, ESPN's NFL experts ranked quarterbacks not by the totality of their work, but for their individual traits – 12 to be exact.
In the exercise, many of their pundits and a few from Football Outsiders made top-[add]10 lists on valuable traits for quarterbacks. Jackson was left off half the top-[add]10 lists, on the following traits: arm strength, accuracy, touch, mechanics, field vision and decision-making, with the last being called a snub from Jackson by Football Outsider's Aaron Schatz and Klassen.
"The back half of the 2021 season was a rough one for Lamar Jackson, but that shouldn't erase the previous two and a half seasons of play," Shatz & Klassen wrote. "When he is rolling, Jackson is an instinctive quick-game processor and has a great feel for what he can and cannot get away with over the middle of the field. Moreover, Jackson has incredible feel for when it's time to give up on a play and leave the pocket while also not doing so too soon. That should qualify as decision-making just the same as anything else."
Of the other half, Jackson topped the list twice, for scrambling and designed-run ability.
"Defenses can tolerate when Lamar Jackson gains chunk yardage on designed runs. Sometimes their scheme just beats your scheme," ESPN's Field Yates wrote. "But it's his scrambling -- when a defense either generates pressure or holds up well enough in coverage that Jackson has no choice but to break free -- that is downright demoralizing. And it rarely ends well for a defense, while often leading to a Ravens highlight play."
"Lamar Jackson is a runaway (pun intended) winner of this category, and the more salient conversation might just be whether he's the best runner we've ever seen at quarterback," Yates wrote. "His ankle-breaking open-field moves and rare speed are incredible, and he's a threat every single year to sail past 1,000 rushing yards. Since being drafted in 2018, he has averaged 6.0 yards per carry -- tops among all qualified players, not just quarterbacks."
The other four categories Jackson were ranked in:
Toughness: No. 2
Second reaction: No. 6
Compete level: No. 7
Pocket presence: No. 10