Skip to main content

Josh Downs looking to build on record-setting rookie season in Year 2 with Colts

Downs caught 68 passes for 771 yards with two touchdowns as a rookie in 2023. 

Josh Downs' receiving ability, football IQ, quickness, athleticism, work ethic and coachability all set him up for immediate success in the NFL – which translated into the 2023 third-round pick breaking Bill Brooks' franchise rookie record with 68 catches last season.

But Downs isn't focused on his Year 1 accomplishments. As he's began to lay the foundation for 2024 during the Colts' offseason program over the last few weeks, the 5-foot-9 wideout's attention is on making improvements to his game with a year of experience under his belt.

"I feel like I have some little things I can improve on in the route releases," Downs said. "I left some plays on the field last year, but everybody does that. I looked at those plays. I'm trying to identify coverages better – things like that."

As the Colts' primary slot receiver, a large chunk of Downs' production (30 receptions, 248 yards) came between the numbers and within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. That's an area of the field where success comes from knowing not only your route assignment, but how your route assignment fits with the other three or four pass-catchers in the pattern. You also need to know how cornerbacks, linebackers and/or safeties will cover the middle of the field not only to get open, but to gain valuable yards after the catch.

For Downs, a year in head coach Shane Steichen's scheme plus a full season of understanding how defenses would cover him is incredibly valuable experience on which to build going into this season.

"That comes with understanding the offense more – just knowing what the other receivers, even the tight end, are running," Downs said. "And then knowing the run game better as well and just having a year under your belt, you know the level of competition you're going to go up against now and you see what type of players you're playing against each and every week. Just like high school and college, that second year is big."

Downs, notably, went from seven catches for 119 yards as a freshman at North Carolina to 101 receptions for 1,335 yards as a sophomore.

"Slot receiver ends up being a position where the more you understand about what the other guys on offense are doing and what the guys on defense are doing, the better you can play because when you play in that slot there are guys inside of you, there are guys outside of you," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Sometimes you have certain routes where it makes sense as a coaching staff to give him a few reads. You can break in or break out, or you can sit and break out, and all that good stuff. We teach those. We try to teach them really well but for a rookie becoming a second year guy, you hope to notice, 'Gosh, I recognized a certain coverage. I knew that linebacker was going to be inside so I didn't break inside.' Those types of things are the advancements as the offensive system sort of goes.

"Younger players sort of learn and you hope that factors into their game when you see them on the field next fall. Josh is really intelligent. He likes talking through that stuff. Ultimately, as a receiver, you love going and getting open and catching the ball and if you can learn a little something about what your buddy is doing on offense or how the defense is going to play a certain coverage, that can help you get open and make that extra catch or those extra few catches. That's the profession, that's what we're in it for. Josh is doing a good job of sort of soaking up, learning a lot of that information. That's the benefit of going from being that rookie to that second-year player and it will develop for all the guys."

For Downs, the offseason program – which runs through early June – and then training camp will be about honing in on those details about him, his teammates and the opposing defense. And all the work he's putting in also is coming with an understanding that he won't surprise anyone in the NFL in 2024, now that the league has a year of film to dissect his game.

"Reggie (Wayne) was telling me that they're going to be game planning for me more this year, just because there's a year under my belt," Downs said. "But just gotta understand certain things they're going to look for after Week 1 and go from there."

Related Content

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Our 2024 schedule is set! Secure your seats to all home games at Lucas Oil Stadium now.