At the start of the 2022 college football season, Josh Downs was flying under-the-radar. After how he has played this season, he shouldn’t be overlooked any longer. His play also should lead to him hearing his name called early in April.
Downs’ 2021 season at North Carolina saw him have 101 receptions for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns. That was with Sam Howell at the quarterback position, with Drake Maye now under center, Downs has continued to elevate his game. So far this season over eight games, Downs has a team leading 847 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns over 74 receptions. Downs had to overcome some adversity early in the season, as in the first game of the year against Florida A&M he sustained a knee injury and missed two games. With two regular season games left in addition to competing in the ACC Championship Game, Downs will have time to add onto his season total and display his talents on a big stage.
In terms of the other receivers in this class, there is also Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison, Quentin Johnston, and Kayshon Boutte. The skills Downs has to back up his stats is what makes him a first round caliber receiver.
Pre-snap Downs is dangerous. As soon as the ball is snapped, he does an excellent job of instantly accelerating off the line to gain separation.
During his routes, he has the top-tier ability to manipulate defensive backs with his stop-and-start ability. This combined with his speed is a contributing factor as to how Downs is able to gain separation.
At 5’10, 175 pounds, he plays bigger than he is. Downs has an extremely large catch radius to catch off target passes, while also not being afraid to go up against bigger cornerbacks and fight for the catch. How he uses his frame to shield defenders away from the ball is what has made him a go-to target in the red zone.
His size also plays a huge factor in him being able to gain yards after the catch. Downs is shifty, and sudden in his movements, making him one of the more difficult receivers in this class to tackle.
Downs has shown he can be the ultimate receiver for his quarterback. In addition to his catch radius to make acrobatic catches, he also is able to adjust to what defenses are throwing at him to get open and make a play. On his routes, he shows great tracking ability to secure passes without giving any indication to defenders that the ball is coming his way.
There are some areas that Downs can work on. While he plays bigger than his size, when teams play press man coverage against him at the line, it can be difficult for him to disengage consistently. He has also seen most of his snaps out of the slot. While he has the ability to stretch the field and still secure deep passes, some he lets hit his chest instead of reaching out for the pass due to his inexperience.
With training at the NFL level, Downs should end up improving his downfield route tree and see improvement on those passes. He is a playmaker that can give an instant boost to an offense, and because of that, he should be considered in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.