The 2023 NFL draft saw 11 wide receivers selected before the Indianapolis Colts chose North Carolina wideout Josh Downs. But that didn’t stop Downs from making a bold statement in a video tweeted from the official Colts Twitter account.
“I’m excited to be a Colt,” Downs said. “Y’all got the best receiver in the draft. I promise you I’m gonna make you all proud.
“Let’s go. Come on. Let’s do it.”
In three seasons at North Carolina, Downs posted 202 receptions for 2,483 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns.
Josh Downs Calls Himself ‘Best Receiver’ in 2023 NFL Draft
A bulk of Downs’ production came over the last two seasons. He recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving campaigns for the Tar Heels during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
His statistics dropped from his sophomore to junior seasons, but that could be contributed to losing quarterback Sam Howell to the NFL draft last year. Even still, Downs registered a career-high 11 touchdowns with first-year starting signal caller Drake Maye.
At 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, Downs is undersized, especially for the NFL. That’s probably why he fell into the third round.
But Downs has a lot of other characteristics to like.
“Free-flowing athlete with dynamic footwork and an instinctive feel for how to elude opponents,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote. “Downs posted off-the-charts production over the last two seasons as an undersized slot with an oversized will. His confidence jumps off the tape and he has proven himself to be better at catching through contact than you might expect.
“Downs might not have prototypical size, but he’s well-positioned to keep stacking catches and making plays as a starting NFL slot receiver.”
Zierlein compared Downs to Kansas City Chiefs receiver Kadarius Toney. The New York Giants drafted Toney at No. 20 overall in the 2021 NFL draft.
Toney has yet to break out as an NFL wideout, but he’s contributed in spurts on both offense and special teams as a returner. Downs has returner ability as well.
How Downs Fits With the Colts
With his small stature, Downs definitely breaks the mold in the Indianapolis wide receiver room.
General manager Chris Ballard has primarily targeted receivers taller than six feet. With that in mind, The Athletic’s Zak Keefer called Downs “a nice change-up” for the Colts.
Keefer also tweeted on April 27 that new head coach Shane Steichen was a major factor in the Colts’ decision to draft quarterback Anthony Richardson.
“This is the Colts betting on Shane Steichen’s ability to develop a young quarterback,” The Athletic’s Zak Keefer wrote. “Richardson is just 20 years old and has so much ahead of him.”
Clearly, it appears as though Steichen is having an early impact on player personnel in Indianapolis.
Downs will join a Colts offense that has a very bright future. Michael Pittman Jr. is the elder statesman in the wide receiver room, but he will only be 25 years old in Week 1.
Opposite Pittman, Alec Pierce is expected to be Indianapolis’ No. 2 receiver this fall. The Colts also drafted him on Day 2 last year.
On paper, Pittman, Pierce and Downs figure to be an exciting trio of receivers going forward. Downs’ size should be a great compliment to those two bigger receivers.
Running back Jonathan Taylor will also be just 24 this season, and the Colts just drafted Anthony Richardson to be the franchise’s next long-term quarterback.
If Downs fulfills his promise to be the best receiver in the 2023 draft class, the Colts offense could be scary good soon.