The Ravens are in their second week of organized team activities, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman already likes the flexibility offered by tight ends Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and rookies Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely.
When the Ravens traded wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to the Arizona Cardinals in a surprising move on the first day of the NFL draft in April, most thought the team’s next move would be selecting a receiver at some point.
Instead, the Ravens used two of their six fourth-round picks on Kolar and Likely, a sign Baltimore’s offense in 2022 might resemble the record-breaking 2019 version that allowed quarterback Lamar Jackson to thrive and take home the NFL Most Valuable Player Award unanimously. The Ravens used multiple tight end formations with Andrews, Boyle and Hayden Hurst that season and led the league in rushing.
“They’re chess pieces,” Roman said of Likely and Kolar. “How it all fits together could be pretty interesting.”
Roman said the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Kolar is a big target and a good all-around player. He caught 168 passes for 2,181 yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons at Iowa State, including 62 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns in 2021 on his way to being a finalist for the John Mackey Award, given to college football’s most outstanding tight end.
Likely, meanwhile, can do many things unscripted as a receiver, Roman said. The offensive coordinator is confident the former Coastal Carolina standout will continue to develop in other phases of the game.
During Likely’s senior season with the Chanticleers, he caught a touchdown pass on more than 20% of his 59 receptions while racking up 912 yards. Even though Likely is considered slight for an NFL tight end at 6-4 and 225 pounds, the Ravens were intrigued with his ability to make plays and line up at multiple spots on the field.
“They’re really both like receiving, F-type tight ends, where you can put them in the slot, and they’re going to give a safety a challenge, they’re going to make a safety work,” Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said last month. “They’ve got [the] size to be a mismatch for a nickel. [They’re] both very competitive as perimeter blockers. They understand angles, [and] how to get on players.”
Andrews, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who had a career year in 2021, believes Kolar and Likely will be good players for a long time, noting they have adapted well to the offense and can run fast routes.
“I think they both have a natural, kind of, a knack for football [and] understanding the game — which is special,” the All-Pro said.
Aside from the rookies, Roman said Boyle looks like a completely new guy after only playing five games last season as he worked his way back from a knee injury he suffered in 2020.
“It’s unbelievable what he has done and the hard work he has put in,” Roman said. “He’s looking really good.”
It’s still too early to tell how the Ravens will operate their offense with a crowded tight ends room. However, if it resembles the heavy formation sets that were on display in 2019, the Ravens could be very productive.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Baltimore rushed for 1,089 yards in 2019 in heavy sets, a formation that often features no wide receivers and commonly employs three tight ends and two running backs or two tight ends and three running backs. Andrews, Boyle and Hurst averaged 12.3 yards per catch while accounting for more than half of the team’s 3,225 total passing yards.
“We’re starting to visualize what we could possibly do,” Roman said. “I’m sure it’ll be different than last year as it was different than the year before.”