The Colts entered Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft with the No. 35 overall pick and a deep group of players they were willing to call with their first selection of the night.
So, with that group of five or six players in mind, general manager Chris Ballard traded down twice – first from No. 35 to No. 38 with the Las Vegas Raiders, then from No. 38 to No. 44 with the Atlanta Falcons. The Colts added two Day 3 picks – Nos. 110 (fourth round) and 141 (fifth round) – in the process, and still got a guy from that original pool of players.
"When you have that much depth on the board," Ballard said, "we can still move down and get a player we really like."
It just so happened that player was 1) a cornerback, filling a position of need and 2) an Indianapolis native. So Julius Brents, the remarkably rangy cornerback who was stationed Friday night at Birdies in Westfield – about a mile and a half from Colts training camp at Grand Park – got the first call of the night.
The 6-foot-3 Brent possesses nearly off-the-charts length for the position he plays; his 83 5/8-inch wingspan is in the 99th percentile for cornerbacks measured at the NFL Combine in the last two decades, per Mockdraftable.com. His long arms, physicality and toughness make him an ideal fit to play press coverage in Gus Bradley's defense, which Ballard said the Colts hope to do more of going forward.
"We think he's going to be really good at it," Ballard said.
And it's impossible to not fall in love with Brents' story – he's a Warren Central grad whose formative football years were spent idolizing Peyton Manning and Bob Sanders.
But after trading back and still getting someone high on the Colts' board, Ballard later tried to trade up.
For about 30 minutes Friday evening, the Colts called around the NFL, trying to find a team willing to slide back to No. 79 – and ensure the team could get the guy on their board they coveted the most.
There weren't any bites. So the Colts were left to let the draft come to them – and it did when North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs was still available at No. 79.
"We didn't expect him to be there," Ballard said, underscoring his urgency to move up earlier in the night.
The Colts had their eye on Downs for a while, even as early as a year ago when the hyper-productive, 5-foot-9 receiver caught Ballard's eye while watching film of ex-North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (who was a fifth-round pick of the Washington Commanders in 2022). Downs blew away Colts wide receivers coach – and, you know, one of the best receivers in franchise history – Reggie Wayne at the NFL Combine, to the point where Wayne told Downs: "I need you on my squad."
"Reggie came over and said, man, this Josh Downs — it's incredible," Ballard said. "He had a great workout."
At 5-foot-9, Downs is the shortest wide receiver drafted by the Colts since 1990; at 171 pounds, he'll be the second-lightest player on the team (behind only the 170-pound Isaiah Rodgers Sr.). But Downs is not someone whose size has negatively impacted his game; he's sturdily built and his quickness, speed, tough-to-tackle agility and natural feel for playing receiver led him to consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2021 and 2022 at North Carolina.
And it made sense to add Downs, who the Colts believe has flexibility to play both in the slot and out wide, to a receiver room bookended by the 6-foot-4 Michael Pittman Jr. and 6-foot-3 Alec Pierce.
"We wanted to add more speed," Ballard said. "Whether he was – with the size at the end of the day, didn't really matter. He is a good complement to what we have."
Brents and Downs both fit the broad profile of Colts' draft picks in recent years – they have top-shelf athletic traits and high football character. And that's a combination proven to give players the best chance to succeed in their college-to-the-pros transition, which Brents and Downs will now embark on making in Indianapolis.
"When you get guys with talent who love to play and who have good toughness and mental toughness, which we think both of them do, they usually hit their ceilings," Ballard said. "And we think both these guys got really good ceilings. I know they got a good floor, but we think they got really good ceilings."
An inside look at the Colts staff inside the War Room during rounds two and three of the 2023 NFL Draft.