By Adam Aniba
In a previous pre-draft report, we discussed 5 Combine Sleepers To Watch ahead of the March 1st NFL Combine. Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely was the featured tight end in the five to watch, after having a standout week in Mobile during the Senior Bowl.
After not running the forty-yard dash during the combine, Likely still posted the best vertical leap among the tight ends with 36". Likely decided to postpone running the forty-yard dash until his pro day. Although some tight end needy teams might have left the CCU pro day slightly disappointed with the 4.80 second time, some have speculated that Likely could have been dealing with a muscle strain. Either way, his football speed and athleticism is the best amongst the tight ends in this draft class.
His playmaking ability and knack for beating coverage is second to none at the position and his end zone receptions are a thing of beauty.
6'4.5" 245 lbs | TE | C.Carolina
Draft Proj Late 2nd-3rd Rd
Career (32 games) 143 rec for 2,213 yds & 23 tds 15.5 per rec
2021 (11 games ) 70 rec for 1,058 yds & 12 tds 15.1 per rec
Likely played receiver for Everett HS in Mass with his junior season being his best, registering 59 rec for 917 yards and 11 tds. He averaged 83.4 yards receiving per game his junior year and even flashed in defensive sub-packages on occasion (34 total tak, 2.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles with 1 receiver & 2 passes defended).
Likely also played in 18 games on for the Everrett basketball squad as their SG/SF, averaging 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Likely was unranked nationally and schools showed little interest during the recruiting process.
Bethune-Cookman, Rhode Island, Bryant College and Sacred Heart showed interest in the receiver, but Coastal Carolina University envisioned the 6'4" receiver as a developmental tight end. Likely didn't even bother taking recruiting trips to any of the schools and commited to pay for CCU.
During his freshman season in '18, Likely recorded 5 touchdowns in a reserve role (tied for team lead). In 2019, much heralded Jamey Chadwell was brought aboard to run his version of the spread-option as HC CCU. Chadwell was a 3-time Big South Coach of year at Charleston Southern University and had big plans for Likely.
After being used sparingly as a freshman, Chadwell featured Likely as a flex tight end in his passing game, lining him up in the slot over 30% of the time. Utilizing the tight ends' 78 inch wingspan and knack for opening up windows for his quarterback, led to matchup mismatches on a regular basis. His significant catch radius, led to big plays in the red zone as well.
Many of the routes run by Likely were curl and out routes, but Chadwell found creative ways to get him open on post routes. In 2020 Likely had his breakout season, ranking 10th in the FBS through in 11 games with a 20.0 yards per reception average, while dealing with a lower body injury. In '21 Likely was selected to the All-Sunbelt 1st Team, continuing his ascension and leading all tight ends in the nation (ranking 6th in the FBS) with 12 touchdowns.
The CCU tight end had his showcase game routing Arkansas State 52-20 (10/7/21). Quarterback Grayson McCall and Likely connected 8 times for 232 yards and all 4 of the teams passing touchdowns. The win set the tone for the school's first bowl game win and an 11-5 season. The improvement with Likely in '21 was evident and making game changing plays became routine.
Quick-twitch ability to beat coverage with little wasted movement
Displays the versatility to plays multiple roles in the passing game
Displays a mean streak willing to mix it up, who can be an effective chip-blocker
Large catch radius and huge hands (10") led to routine one-handed catches
Difficult to bring down in the open field, a YAC monster
Showcases is Basketball background by excelling with red zone 50/50 jump balls
Blocking technique needs refinement, willing but too often lunges
Limited route tree at CCU (minor concern)
Overall route running needs refinement (minor concern)
Quicker than fast, will need to work on counter moves
Level of competition leaves some questioning his ability to dominate in the NFL
Turns 22 yrs old in April
In the modern NFL, tight ends who have the ability to flex out and cause mismatches in the receiving game are highly coveted. The misconception with Likely, is he isn't a willing blocker, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.
Although Likely won't earn his stripes early on as a blocker, he'll excel on special teams and provide a weapon on passing downs. He was the top receiving weapon at CCU, even seeing time at H-Back, which certainly adds to his value.
Likely is projected to be drafted in the 3rd round range. His ability as a playmaker in the red zone and overall receiving weapon, should lead to tight end needy teams taking a chance on him in the 2nd round.
*Games Watched- 9/2/21 vs CIT, 9/10 vs KU, 9/18 vs BUFF, 9/25 vs MASS, 10/2 vs ULM, 10/7 vs ARST, 10/20 vs APP, 10/28 vs TROY, 11/6 vs GASO, 11/13 vs GAST, 11/20 TXST, 11/26 vs USA & 12/17 vs NIU
*Team Fits- WAS, PHI, NYG, DAL, GB, SF, ARZ, TENN, DET, NYJ, JAX, BAL, IND & CIN
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