The 2023 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, which means it’s time to get familiar with some of the upcoming prospects from this year’s class. One that really caught my eye while watching was North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs.
Downs was constantly open at UNC and routinely made big play after big play. He is such a fun receiver that I think NFL fans, analysts, and fantasy gamers will soon come to love. Let’s see why.
Josh Downs slaughtered man coverage during his time at North Carolina, but especially last season. Only two receivers graded better against single coverage than Downs according to PFF, and he bested Marvin Harrison Jr. in their grading system. Any time you beat Superman, you must be doing something impressive.
Josh Downs did the majority of his damage in the slot. 89-percent of his routes came from the slot. That’s not to say he can’t play and win on the outside, though. He can handle his own just fine out there.
But when you’re as dominant as Josh Downs is from the slot, why deviate? Downs was so dominant because of his technique and footwork. He is so quick in and out of breaks and knows how to decelerate and use hesitation moves to shake loose off his man and get open. Because of this, UNC looked to Downs a lot in key situations. He delivered plenty. Third-and-intermediates were automatic when looking in Downs’ direction.
I repeat: professional chain mover. And a gnarly release off the LOS pic.twitter.com/N0kXTezNPw
— Shervon Fakhimi (@ShervonFakhimi) January 9, 2023
Josh Downs is quick, but he’s also fast. His 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL combine didn’t light the world ablaze, but it certainly doesn’t mean he’s slow. He plays a bit faster than his 40 time indicates. UNC had no problem letting Downs run under bombs.
Another aspect I love about Josh Downs is his hands. You wouldn’t think that a 5-10 175-pound receiver would be a contested catch guru, but Downs is. He highpoints the ball just as well as anybody you’d watch. I watched and charted six of Downs’ games from the 2022 season. He didn’t register a single drop. Whether he was open, the pass was contested, or was a 50-50 jump ball, it didn’t matter. If it was catchable, Downs was bringing it in.
More YAC Please
Josh Downs is dynamic in space. North Carolina used him as their primary punt returner for the last two years. He totaled 282 yards as a returner in that span. Don’t take this criticism too hard, but I felt like he left some yards after the catch. This play is a good example.
Professional chain mover pic.twitter.com/MBAnRWCFfE
— Shervon Fakhimi (@ShervonFakhimi) January 9, 2023
First of all, great route, and another huge third down conversion as we talked about earlier. And yes, there was quite a bit of traffic there. But he doesn’t run through a whole lot of tackles. This is one area where his smaller frame and his 4.48 speed could cost him in the eyes of NFL teams. If he ran a little faster, his size wouldn’t be as big of a concern. Of course, you could also just elude contact and outrun everybody after getting open, which Downs proved capable of doing time and time again.
This is not a huge criticism of Josh Downs by any means. It also may not even be a bad thing for a guy of his size to avoid contact. Tyler Lockett is doing just fine avoiding big hits when he doesn’t need to take them. It’s simply something I noticed. But again, with how open Downs gets and how quick he is, he doesn’t need to run through tackles to gain YAC anyway. His talent to separate along with a smidge of creativity from the coaching staff is all he needs. North Carolina lined him up at running back a lot to simply get Downs the ball in space and let him cook. His future NFL team would be wise to do the same.
I Love the Dough
The name of the game is to score points, right? Both NFL and fantasy football teams love it when their teams score touchdowns. Well, at the receiver position, there wasn’t anybody better at that than Josh Downs. Downs scored nine of his eleven touchdowns from the red zone last season. According to PFF, that was the most among Power Five schools.
All of those traits we highlighted earlier about Josh Downs shine even brighter in the red zone. It’s supposed to be tougher to gain separation in the red zone, but not for Downs. He especially loves that fake move inside to bust back out from the slot. He should’ve had another touchdown with that move back in Week 1, but Drake Maye sold the throw. Downs has the moves to get open, but as I said earlier, he can and will go over the top to snag the ball. This is maybe the favorite play I saw from Downs in all the games I watched him play.
I love Josh Downs. Please get him in Green Bay pic.twitter.com/qm37p36CTd
— Shervon Fakhimi (@ShervonFakhimi) December 19, 2022
Watch how fast he’s moving out of his break, then changes speed to shake his defender, then explodes again to gain a step on him. After that masterclass of route running, he finishes him off by Mossing him for a touchdown on 4th and goal at the four-yard line. You can’t do it any better than that. Clinical.
Josh Downs is one of my guys from this class. Sure, he got the benefit of catching balls from Sam Howell and Drake Maye in Chapel Hill, but he elevated those guys’ play too. Downs finished his career at UNC with 195 receptions and consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons in his final two seasons. His 34.6-percent College Dominator, 34.1-percent College Target Share, and 19.1-year-old Breakout Age rank in the 69th, 97th, and 87th-percentiles of each metric.
My comparison for him is Elijah Moore, but there are plenty of Tyler Lockett comparisons out there that I won’t disagree with either (funny enough, Elijah Moore‘s best comparable on his PlayerProfiler player page is… Tyler Lockett!). I think Downs is going to kick ass in the NFL and would love to draft him in any format in 2023. I can’t wait to see how he does in the years to come.