When a prospect is going through the pre-draft process, they're usually told to keep an open mind.
After all, when you're auditioning for all 32 NFL teams, it's not usually advisable to be fixated on the possibility of one specific team targeting you in the NFL Draft.
But Josh Downs couldn't really help but focus on the Indianapolis Colts after his pre-draft conversations with their future Hall of Fame wide receivers coach.
Reggie Wayne became one of the best to ever play the wide receiver position in NFL history thanks to his precise route running and smooth hands, and after watching Downs show off his route running and hands at his NFL Scouting Combine workout back in March, he was sure to express his interest.
"He told me he needed me on his squad. I really took that to heart because Reggie Wayne is a great receiver," Downs recalled of that interaction at the Combine. "He said it's not even close and he told me I was the best receiver there in my group, and I had first-round guys in that group as well. … He told me I'm explosive and he loves to see me play."
The interaction left a clear impression upon Downs, which explains why he was so elated Friday night when it was the Colts calling to tell him they had picked him up in the third round (79th overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft.
"t's surreal to even be a part of the organization," Downs told local Indy-area reporters in a post-draft conference call on Friday night. "I wanted to go earlier, but I'm so appreciative of this organization taking chance on me, in the grand scheme of things, in the third round. I love it and I'm excited to get to work."
With his 5-foot-9, 171-pound frame, Downs is a bit of a mixup size-wise at the receiver position for the Colts, who have featured larger pass-catchers in recent years with Michael Pittman Jr. (6-foot-4) and Alec Pierce (6-foot-3). Nevertheless, Downs proved himself to be consistently productive the last two seasons at North Carolina, averaging more than 97 receptions for 1,180 yards over that span and hauling in a combined 19 receiving touchdowns. He also averaged more than 11 yards per return as the team's punt returner.
Downs doesn't exactly have burner speed — with his still-respectable 4.48-second 40-yard dash — but he'll beat defenders with his athleticism and his "dynamic footwork and an instinctive feel for how to elude opponents," analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in Downs' NFL.com Draft Profile.
"Downs posted off-the-charts production over the last two seasons as an undersized slot with an oversized will," the profile continues. "His confidence jumps off the tape and he has proven himself to be better at catching through contact than you might expect."
Those attributes clearly came through at the Combine, where Downs was able to make that aforementioned impression on Wayne. Downs explained Friday how he was able to develop his route-running skills, a process that will now hit overdrive as he enters his first NFL season.
"I'd say running routes kind of was natural — the hesitations, the change of pace, the different lateral movements that kind of came from different trainers teaching me different things. It took off from there," he said. "I study routes, I watch different guys a lot — Davante Adams, Odell (Beckham Jr.); a lot of dudes. Being a receiver, I feel like running routes is obviously the most important thing besides catching the ball because if you can't get open, what are you going to do?"
For Downs, the cherry on top for his first NFL destination, aside from having coaches he knows genuinely believe in him from the start, is the fact that he will get a chance to grow alongside a talented rookie quarterback. The Colts on Thursday selected University of Florida star Anthony Richardson to be their signal caller of the future, and Downs can't wait to meet up with his new QB and get to work.
"This is the exact scenario I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in a situation with a young quarterback that we could build together, that we could build that relationship and we could go and have a big future together," Downs said. "I'm ready for the future and excited to get back to Indy."
View photos of North Carolina WR Josh Downs, selected 79 overall by the Indianapolis Colts.