College: North Carolina
Projected 40 Time: Sub 4.4
Strength: Route Running
Draft Projection: Top 50
After going from Sam Howell to Drake Maye in an offseason and not losing a step, Josh Downs is set to enter the NFL draft as one of the 'smaller' receivers, but doesn't play that way on the field. The success Jahan Dotson saw this season with the Washington Commanders, is along the lines of how I believe Downs could perform.
Although he's on the shorter side, Downs plays like a receiver that has three to four more inches on his frame. His film also showcased a refined route tree that isn't limited to the short and intermediate areas. He can attack vertically with the best in the class with his legit sub-4.4 speed and an array of leverage-identifying traits. Downs' yards per target went down with Maye at QB this past season, but his touchdowns went up in two fewer games played. He still managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this season coming off 1,335 his sophomore season at UNC. Being a smaller receiver, one of the biggest questions he'll have to prove in the NFL is being able to win at the line of scrimmage.
Downs has speed we know that, but how can he get to it quickly? He does a great job of freezing the corner in press alignment with a stand-up hesitation release(yes I know this is a run, but the DB didn't know that). Recognizing that the defender isn't attempting to stab or jam him and isn't moving, gives Downs the upper hand. He releases outside and turns on the jets, given that Downs puts his hand up tells me this could have been an RPO call. He wanted the ball and would have had an easy touchdown with the acceleration.
Downs doesn't see press often for the reason we just described, if you miss on a jam or he uses his quick hands to evade press, Downs is gone. He's one of the fastest players in this draft not just down the field, but in acceleration as well. He's zero to sixty in no time, making it difficult to play anything but off-coverage against him. The problem with that...he's an exceptional route runner.