Why the Slide?: Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

Our “Why the Slide” series parallels and grew out our “Why Undrafted” series. The latter was created a number of years ago in response to your questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For both series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

The 2023 NFL Draft was known to be a weak year for wide receiver talent, and Downs was one of the most consistent producers in the class, plus had showed big-play ability for the next level. In 2021, Downs was a dangerous weapon for Sam Howell with 101 receptions for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns. With a new quarterback in 2022, Downs turned 83 catches into 929 yards and 11 touchdowns. Downs possesses game-breaking speed, as evidenced by his lightning-fat 40 time at the combine, and many NFL team sources thought that Downs could end up being a second-round pick. Thus, some were surprised when Downs slipped to Round 3.

Team sources WalterFootball.com spoke with said they thought Downs would go in the second round, and he ended up going in the top half of the third round, so Downs didn’t really have much of a slide. Of course being a smaller-statured player hurts how high a prospect can potentially go, and Downs is 5-foot-9, 171 pounds. His size limitations were the big drawbacks with teams.

The Indianapolis Colts ended Downs fall in Round 3, where he was an excellent value. Indianapolis needed a speed receiver to go with Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce. These three young playmakers complement each other, and new quarterback Anthony Richardson is superb at throwing the deep ball. Downs could be a great fit for Richardson to use his big arm and stretch defenses vertically. Defenses are going to load the box to stop the running game of Jonathan Taylor and Richardson, so Downs should see some great opportunities to make plays downfield. Downs could be a dangerous play-action deep receiver for Richardson. The Downs selection in the third round was a very astute one by Indianapolis, and I think he could end up being a steal for the Colts.

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