2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: UNC WR Josh Downs

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling UNC WR Josh Downs. 

#11 Josh Downs, WR, UNC (Junior) – 5102, 175lb


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Josh Downs 5’10 1/4”, 175lb N/A N/A N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

— Quick, twitchy receiver with good play speed
— Get off the line fast and wastes no time getting into his route
— Sudden route runner that eats cushion and make crisp breaks to create separation
— Puts DBs in a bind when he get on their toes before making his break
— Does a good job creating space on underneath crossers as well as routes to the sideline
— Can change his speed with stop/start motions to throw off coverage defenders
— Will shift gears in his routes based on the type of coverage he is facing
— Consistently gets open on whip routes and out routes toward the boundary
— Has good body control to turn and make a catch or to adjust to an off-target pass
— Hauls in a fair number of contested catches despite his size
— Has the leaping ability to rise up and catch the football at its apex
— Will use his body to shield off defenders for jump balls
– Does a good job finding space in the zone coverage to give his QB an open target
— Has good spatial awareness making sideline grabs or in the back of the end zone
— Can create YAC on quick passes or when he gets in space
— Has been used mostly in the slot, but has seen some action outside
— Will go in-motion to get a free release or to throw off the coverage

The Bad

— Lacks ideal height, length, and size for the receiver position
— Lack of catch radius leads to him missing some off-target opportunities
— Doesn’t have great size and density, leading to durability concerns at the next level
— Is fast and agile, but lacks elite deep speed and rare suddenness
— Can struggle getting open against bigger, physical defenders who can run with him
— Avoided bump-and-run coverage often in college, raising question how he would fare in the league
— Willing run blocker, but lacks necessary play strength to make much of an impact
— Can occasionally have focus drops when he takes his eyes off the football


— Junior Prospect from Sewanee, GA
— Born August 12, 2001 (age 21)
— Had had 187 receptions for 3,019 yards and 32 TD in his high school career
— Was selected to play in the 2020 All-American Bowl, former four-star prospect
— Also competed in basketball as a freshman and track and field as a freshman and sophomore
— Finished third in the state triple jump and fourth in the long jump at the state meet
— Played in 10 games during his true freshman season and caught seven passes for 119 yards and three TDs
— Appeared in all 13 games and started 12 games in 2021, setting program records with 101 receptions for 1,335 receiving yards and eight TDs, also returned 16 punts for 156 yards
— Started all 11 games he played in 2022 and caught 94 passes for 1,029 yards and 11 TDs while returning ten punts for 133 yards.
— Finished his career with 2,483 yard receiving, the fourth highest in program history
— Had 22 career touchdown receptions, second-most in school history
— Second-Team All-American (2022) First-Team All-ACC (2021, ’22), Second-Team All-ACC (All-Purpose) (2022)

Tape Breakdown

Josh Downs from UNC has taken college football by storm the last two seasons. The Sewanee native had the most productive season in Tar Heels history in 2021 in terms of receptions and yards, but he managed to follow that up with his second-consecutive performance of over 1,000 yards in 2022, earning back-to-back All-ACC nominations. Downs is undersized by WR standards, being listed at 5’10 1/4”, 175lb, but he has impressive speed and quickness that is hard to ignore on tape.

As you can see above, Downs does a great job stemming his route and generating separation against DBs by closing the space between him and the defender before making his break. He does a good job making plays toward the sideline, showing impressive stop/start suddenness in his route. Watch Downs run the whip route here against Notre Dame near the goal line, planting his foot and turning back to open space for the easy TD catch.

Not only can Downs get open when breaking toward the sideline, but he also does a good job adjusting to the ball when it’s in the air. For being a smaller receiver, Downs makes a fair number of catches outside of his frame. Watch this catch against Florida A&M where Downs breaks back to the ball in off-man coverage, but the pass is thrown behind him. Downs manages to see the past and twist his body around to snag the ball, leaping to make the catch on the mistimed throw by Drake Maye.

Downs’ body control not only pops up on short, quick passes to the sideline, but also when he tracks the football in the air as a vertical deep threat. Watch this catch Downs makes against Duke where he gets separation down the left sideline, selling the stop-and-go at the start of his route to get a step on the defender. Downs then adjusts in the air and makes a back shoulder catch with the defender on his back, securing the catch inside the five to set up first-and-goal.

In the clip above, you see Downs’ body control and spatial awareness come into play to make that catch in coverage along the sideline. Here is another example of Downs making a tough grab while getting hit by a defender, getting both feet down in-bounds on the out route while securing the catch as the defensive back takes Downs out of bounds on the tackle.

For being Slightly over 5’10 and 175lb, Josh Downs makes a fair number of contested catches that receivers with several inches on him would have a tough time coming down with. He is a competitor at the catch point, having the leaping ability to attack the football in the air as well as the body control to shield the ball away from the defender to make the catch. Check out these TD catches against Virginia and Notre Dame where Downs runs the slot fade and levitates up for the ball in coverage, coming down on both occasions with the TD.

If you want to see Downs’ toughness on display, watch this grab he makes in the end zone against Florida A&M. Downs runs a skinny post from the slot and gets a step on his defender to the middle of the field. Maye puts the ball on Downs in between the CB and the S where Downs leaps up to make the catch in the end zone. The safety drills Downs as he catches the ball, but Downs holds onto the ball and completes the process of the catch for the score.

Josh Downs also brings some YAC to the table as well, having good play speed and explosiveness to create with the ball in his hands. Watch this screen pass Downs reels in and takes up field, wasting no time to get past the first down marker before being tripped up.

Downs also thrives against zone coverage, having the awareness to identify open quadrants of the field and give his QB an open target to put the ball on like in this clip where Downs sits in-between two defenders and catches the pass, getting upfield to pick up the first down.


Overall, Josh Downs is the ideal WR prospect you look for to man the slot position in the NFL. His lack of size and length will present durability concerns at the next level as well as the fact that he may struggle against press coverage looks should he not be afforded a free release. While this may relegate him to the slot for some, Downs has shown he can play inside and outside during his time in Chapel Hill, although the slot will likely be a good home for him in the league where he can use his speed and quickness to be a reliable chain mover that can create in space if the defense isn’t careful.

When watching Downs, Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett came to mind as a realistic comparison for a size perspective as well as a skill set perspective. Lockett is 5’10, 182lb and was considered undersized coming out of K-State, dropping him to the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but he quickly proved to be a steal as he excelled with his quickness and route running ability to consistently get open underneath and over the middle. Lockett also has excelled as a deep threat during his time in Seattle, using double moves and his 4.4 speed to get behind defenses for big plays down the field.

I expect Downs to have a similar role in the league as an undersized, yet explosive slot receiver that can put DBs in a blender as well as get on top of them and make contested catches on occasion. The Pittsburgh Steelers could really use a slot receiver to pair with Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, even if Calvin Austin III comes back from injury this season. Adding Downs into the mix would give Pittsburgh another craftsman as a route runner as well as a dynamic playmaker that can make plays down the field and out in space to invigorate this passing attack.

Projection: Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.3 – Future Quality Stater (2nd Round)
Games Watched: at Virginia (2022), vs Notre Dame (2022), vs Florida A&M (2022)

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