Baltimore Ravens fourth-round rookie Isaiah Likely repeatedly ripped apart the Arizona Cardinals defense in the first half of Sunday's 24-17 victory – the Ravens' 22nd straight preseason win.
The first-year tight end gobbled up eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, including a 31-yard catch and rumble, in the first half.
In preseason action, Likely has displayed a knack for finding soft holes in the defense and sticky hands, catching all 12 of his targets through two outings. The continued trajectory of the rookie from offseason novelty, to training camp dazzler, to preseason marvel has Likely in line for a sizable role when the season begins.
"We expected him to be a really good player," head coach John Harbaugh said Sunday, via the team's official website. "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."
With questions at receiver, Likely is playing his way into two-tight end reps alongside Mark Andrews. The rookie's uncanny ability to keep himself open against zones and when the play breaks down has been evident all offseason. Sunday, he also showed he could make hay after the catch, turning a modest gain into a chunk one with a nifty move in space.
"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."
The only blemish on Likely's resume through two preseason games was two holding penalties in the first exhibition tilt. He didn't have those struggles Sunday as the Ravens ran a pass-heavy offense with Tyler Huntley during the first half.
Likely's ability to line up in multiple spots will help the rookie get on the field, potentially leapfrogging Nick Boyle for TE2 duties. Sunday, he took nine snaps from the slot and five tight. Six catches came from the slot, with two -- including the TD -- lined up tight.
A Lamar Jackson favorite since mandatory minicamp, Likely continues to impress each step of the way.
"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."
The true test of how happy the coaching staff is with the rookie will come when the veterans are full-go in Week 1. How many snaps a fourth-rounder gets early in the season will underscore the plan for the youngster in Year 1.
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