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One big Colts training camp question, wide receivers: How do things shake out in the slot?

The Colts added veteran Isaiah McKenzie in free agency and selected Josh Downs in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, bringing two players with experience in the slot to Shane Steichen's offense. 

Josh Downs

Shane Steichen will have flexibility when it comes to the personnel groupings he uses in his first-year Colts' offense thanks to a deep group of tight ends and a couple of intriguing slot receiver options.

The benefit here is the Colts could, theoretically, heavily use 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) one week and then lean on 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) the next depending on matchups with opposing defenses. To get there, the Colts would need multiple tight ends to emerge from what should be a strong training camp competition, plus either or both of these receivers to cement themselves as reliable options:

Table inside Article
Player Height Years Slot snaps Total snaps Slot production Total production
Isaiah McKenzie (NFL) 5-8 2017-2022 1,163 1,802 103 REC, 979 YDs, 11 TDs 141 REC, 1,345 YDs, 11 TDs
Josh Downs (NCAA) 5-9 2020-2022 1,417 1,674 178 REC, 2,208 YDs, 21 TDs 211 REC, 2,483 YDS, 24 TDs

The Colts signed McKenzie, who spent the last five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, this offseason and then snagged Downs, the former North Carolina standout, with the No. 79 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Both players have done the majority of their damage, either in the NFL or NCAA, from the slot – which makes sense given their size and the short-area quickness they both possess.

Downs got on the Colts' radar last fall, and a glowing review at the NFL Combine from wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne – who thought Downs was the top receiver in Indianapolis that week – only cemented the team's hope to landing him in the draft.

"Downs is a crafty route runner in the slot," Steichen said. "He had a lot of production at North Carolina. He just has a really good natural feel. I mean this guy is a football player and can find the dead spots in zone coverage. He just has a knack for getting open so really excited to about him."

The Colts aren't pigeonholing Downs into being a slot-only guy, though – Wayne envisions him being able to play outside at the "Z" receiver (an outside receiver who usually doesn't line up on the line of scrimmage, like an "X" receiver) and offering versatility there.

"What jumped out was he's pretty smart," Wayne said. "He was brought up with football in his life — his dad is a coach, he understands all the ins and outs. That's what you're looking for — you're trying to get a guy that can not only play and be successful, you're looking for a guy that can catch on quick and go out and do it."

Downs will have to compete not only with McKenzie, but with the team's tight ends, to earn snaps as a rookie. But how he develops, and/or how McKenzie fits into Steichen's scheme, in training camp will be key in setting up the Colts' offense for success starting in Week 1 of the regular season.

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