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Indianapolis Colts

Wide receiver Josh Downs' 'natural feel' for the game paying big dividends in his rookie season

In the Colts' 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, Downs caught six passes for a season-high 97 yards.

Downs vs. TEN

As good as rookie wide receiver Josh Downs had been through the first month of the season, it took last Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans for him to garner league-wide recognition.

"I always feel like I have a lot more I can show, but yeah, last game was a blessing," Downs said. "Every game so far has been a blessing; it just comes with the opportunity. So by getting more opportunities, I should be able to show more."

Downs caught all six of his targets for a season-high 97 yards, which led all Colts pass catchers. His night was highlighted by an impressive third-and-16 38-yard reception between two Titans defensive backs.

"What was really nice to see was – a lot of times maybe the guy that runs those shorter, underneath routes only runs those shorter, underneath routes. All of a sudden shoot, third-and-16 – Josh Downs is getting over the top, deep, making a huge play," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Obviously, great throw by Anthony (Richardson). It was really good to see Josh show that versatility just to the defense, right? If you're a defense – you're trying to figure out who is this Josh Downs guy and how do we defend him? The more routes he can put on tape that he's getting open on, the better. Josh has done a nice job, he'll continue hopefully to do a nice job and we'll keep finding ways to get him the ball."

The performance earned him an NFL Week 5 Rookie of the Week nomination and an 84.8 PFF grade (fourth-highest among rookies).

For anyone who watched Downs play at North Carolina, it should come as no surprise how well he's transitioned to the NFL.

In his three years as a Tar Heel, Downs finished his career with 2,483 receiving yards (fourth-most in school history), 22 touchdown receptions (second-most in school history) and 202 career receptions (third-most in school history).

Despite his illustrious college career, Downs still fell into the Colts' lap in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

While some players would feel slighted by not going as high as they thought they should, Downs' said he is just appreciative that he was taken by the right team.

"I hoped I would get drafted earlier, but it is what it is at the end of the day," Downs said. "I got drafted to a great organization. I'm in a great spot, so I can't really complain."

His numbers through the first month of the season prove that Downs and the Colts were indeed a great fit for one another.

Through his first five games, he is second on the team with 255 receiving yards. His 23 receptions during that stretch are the most of any Colts rookie since 1970.

That includes Colts legend Reggie Wayne, who serves as the team's wide receivers coach.

Even though there's still a lot for Downs to learn, Wayne said that his willingness to learn has helped him get off to a fast start.

"It's gonna take some time for him to get that college smell off of him," Wayne said. "But I mean, so far, so good. One thing about Josh is he's a student of the game. He wants to be coached, he listens and he prepares well. So, I think that's part of that - just coming from being a coach's kid. I think he just kind of gets it more than other people do."

Here's how Downs ranks among rookies around the league through Week 5:

Table inside Article
Player Name Team Receiving Yards
Puka Nacua Los Angeles Rams 572
Tank Dell Houston Texans 324
Zay Flowers Baltimore Ravens 317
Sam LaPorta Detroit Lions 289
Josh Downs Indianapolis Colts 255
Table inside Article
Player Name Team Name Receptions
Puka Nacua Los Angeles Rams 46
Zay Flowers Baltimore Ravens 29
Sam LaPorta Detroit Lions 25
Josh Downs Indianapolis Colts 23
Bijan Robinson Atlanta Falcons 21

"I think with any rookie that has success early, I think part of it is they have a natural feel on how to play the game," head coach Shane Steichen said. "A lot of those guys that you see make big plays, they made them in college and then it translates sometimes to the NFL quickly, but again, I've said this before about him. He's got a natural feel playing that position, catches everything, runs good routes. He's explosive, and then obviously the quarterbacks, both Anthony (Richardson) and Gardner (Minshew II), got a good feel for the way he runs his routes and just find completions going to him."

That feel has made him a favorite target of Minshew, who worked closely with Downs during training camp. Noticing his knack for getting open then, Minshew II said not much has changed since the regular season got underway.

"He's doing a great job," Minshew II said. "He has good feel versus zone, winning against man, catches the ball in traffic – all of the things you can ask for. As a rookie, he's really been dialed in on his assignment and doing a good job with that. Very excited for him, he just continues to seem to grow."

That improvement will be key for Downs as he readies himself for the remainder of the season. Not wanting to rest on his laurels, Downs knows that he has a lot of work to do before he can get comfortable.

"I got God-given talent to be a good receiver," Downs said. "So, I gotta just keep working, keep that same work ethic, keep persevering when things don't go my way and keep maturing."

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