Josh Downs Draft Profile
University of North Carolina wide receiver, Josh Downs, is one of the easiest prospects to project in this year’s NFL Draft. Standing at 5’9 171 lbs., Downs is a slighter receiver who is limited to playing in the slot due to his stature. When he got to North Carolina, Downs played as a true freshman, but mostly on special teams. He finally got a chance to show off his skills offensively when Dyami Brown opted out of the Orange Bowl to prepare for the draft. In his first game with legit offensive reps, he had four catches for over 90 yards and two touchdowns. That gave him momentum going into his sophomore season where Downs had over 100 catches with 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. In his final year, with Drake Maye throwing him the football, Downs had over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He was extremely productive in college and I expect the productivity to continue in the NFL.
Josh Downs gives film-nerds like myself an appreciation for route-running. He looks at the skill like an art; and he is extremely creative with his approach. He has very good foot quickness that allows him to plant and redirect at the top of his route faster than defensive backs can position themselves. That lower body quickness is also helpful against press-coverage where he is able to beat defensive backs off the line and then stack them. Downs is a route technician; he consistently uses rocker steps at the top of his stem and diamond releases at the line of scrimmage. He has a very good feel for the timing of plays; he aligns the speed of his route with where he is in the progression. One thing that separates Downs is his ability to find windows in the defense to attack; he does a fantastic job at manipulating defenders in zone to ultimately sit down in the defense’s opening. While Downs doesn’t have the greatest catch radius due to shorter arms, he has extremely natural hands. If the quarterback puts the ball on him, there is no way it is hitting the floor. He is able to use shorter stature to his advantage on low throws. His suddenness matched with an understanding for leverage creates two-way goes at the top of his routes. While he is not the strongest player in the draft, he does a good job at being physical his hands to garner separation. He is a very good salesman; from head fakes to how he stems his routes, defensive backs have a hard time getting a read on what route Downs is running. While Downs is not the scariest deep threat in the world, he does a great job at selling vertically before planting and working his way back to the quarterback. Downs is ready to play from the jump and will be a savvy route runner from day one.
While Downs is an extremely creative route runner, there are physical limitations that prevent him from being elite outside of the slot. Those limitations have to do with size and speed. Downs is the prototypical “quicker than fast” guy; it is hard to imagine him being overly successful at the third level in the NFL. His shorter arms prevent him from being an elite 50-50 ball receiver, and his shorter legs causes him to have just average long speed. One of the most important traits slot receivers need in the NFL is strength and toughness; which are two things that Downs is lacking. He consistently acts like he is going to make a block but ultimately pulls up and doesn’t even make an attempt. After the catch, Downs isn’t much of a threat either; he is constantly going out of bounds or getting down rather than trying to run somebody over. While Downs has his limitations, he is not one of those players who is going to be asked to do what players like Julio Jones and DK Metcalf do. He is going to have a role in the NFL; however his playtime is going to be limited if he’s not willing to help out as a blocker and after the catch.
Some players are more fun to watch than others, and Josh Downs falls into that category. The combination of creativity and suddenness he plays with is very reminiscent of Hunter Renfrow. If Downs has a PhD in route-running, his knowledge is deeply rooted in an understanding of how to get open. He understands how to attack weaknesses in the defense and has a natural feel against both zone and man coverage. If I was a team like the Saints who saw how Derek Carr leaned on Renfrow, I would be willing to spend a mid-day two pick on Downs. I have a late second round grade on Downs, and I believe the Seahawks and Packers are two other teams who Downs could be of use. He plays the position how it is supposed to be played and if he can sure up his skills after the catch and in the run game, he will be worth much more than a second round pick.
Short-Area Quickness: 9/10
Hands + Catch Radius: 8.75/10
Route Running: 9.25/10
Toughness + Strength: 6.75/10
Separation Skills: 7/8
Body Control + Movement Skills: 7/8
After the Catch: 4.5/6
Competitiveness + Intelligence + Effort: 4.75/6
Final Rating: 82
Pro Comparison: Hunter Renfrow
Team Fits: Saints, Seahawks, Packers
Draft Projection: Late Second Round - Early Third Round
Draft Grade: Late Second Round