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Josh Downs draft profile: Scouting report, 40 time, stats and NFL projection

North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs broke several records across his three seasons in Chapel Hill, but with nothing left to prove at the college level, he’s ready to take his talent to the NFL.

Thanks to his strong college résumé, there are no questions about Downs’ production levels, but that doesn’t mean he’s a top-rank, first-round prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class either.

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In our Downs scouting profile, we’ll highlight the good and the bad while projecting what type of impact he could make in the NFL.

Josh Downs measurables

  • Josh Downs height: 5-foot-9
  • Josh Downs weight: 171 pounds
  • Josh Downs 40 time: 4.48 seconds

Let’s dive into our Josh Downs scouting report and NFL projection.

Josh Downs stats and background

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at North Carolina
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Just like we saw on a bigger stage in college, Downs was extremely productive during his earlier days with North Gwinnett High School out of Suwanee, Georgia. Yet, thanks to his diminutive stature, he wasn’t viewed as a top recruit in the eyes of most.

Still, Downs had enough athleticism to earn him the status of being a four-star recruit by 247 Sports while also being viewed as the 95th-best player in the 2020 recruiting class.

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Once he arrived on campus at North Carolina, Downs quickly earned a role, though not immediately as a pass-catcher. Instead, Downs cut his teeth on special teams, working his way into ten games as a true freshman.

It wasn’t until his second season when Downs began to blow the top off defenses as the team’s leading receiver, catching passes from Sam Howell. Then Downs followed up a superb season, working with true freshman Drake Maye where he once again established himself as the team’s top playmaker.

Josh Downs statsReceptionsRec. YardsTDsYPC
Josh Downs statistics via CFR

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Downs put up these large numbers thanks to having a total of four performances over 150 yards, including a 203-yard, two-touchdown day against Virginia in 2021, showing he can take over a game.

As mentioned, Downs has already proven to be a reliable option, topping 90 receptions each of the past two seasons. Perhaps this is thanks to having some extra help, with his uncle being former 11-year-pro cornerback Dre’ Bly in addition to being the son of a former NC State athlete too. Either way, Downs appears ready to take on a bigger challenge.

Statistics courtesy of College Football ReferenceESPN, and Pro Football Focus

Josh Downs scouting report

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Downs is far from the biggest receiver in the draft class, and to be fair, he’s not the fastest either. Yet, Downs clearly has enough speed to outrun college defenders, and he creates enough separation, using his 4.48 speed, to believe that won’t change in the pros.

Downs is great at changing directions, where he can stop and start in a hurry. This is part of what makes him a perfect fit for the slot receiver position. Which at 5-foot-9, teams won’t expect him to be a top option as an outside receiver.

With an ability to get in and out of breaks with the best of them, Downs should be able to routinely make defenders look silly in the pros.

Teams will love his ability to take screens and other short to intermediate targets for large gains. For Downs, you just need to put the ball in his hands and give him some space to fly down the field. He’s bound to make at least one defender miss along the way.

But it’s not just short passes where Downs can have success. Teams should have no issue sending Downs on deep routes and even allowing him to go up and get a few passes, as his 38.5-inch vertical leap shows he has no trouble climbing the ladder.

While it’s not hard to see many areas where Downs can excel, he is also fairly limited in that he’s relegated mostly to slot duties only because, at 171 pounds, you don’t really expect him to continue receiving 90+ touches against bigger, stronger athletes.

Downs will have plenty of suitors, but his ceiling is capped due to the one factor he cannot control, and that clearly is his height.

  • Josh Downs draft grade: 72/100
  • Josh Downs draft projection: Day 2

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NFL projection for Josh Downs

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Still, despite not having the profile to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Downs can make a large impact on any team he lands on. Players with his impeccable footwork rarely have trouble getting open, but he’s also unlikely to ever be in a featured role.

Either way, teams never have enough playmakers, and its clear Downs is one. His ability to break a game open will draw plenty of interest among NFL teams, and he even has the added bonus of having experience as a punt returner. With little chance of becoming a team’s top receiving threat, Downs may very well get extra opportunities in the return game instead, which brings additional value to the roster.

Don’t expect Downs to emerge into a consistent 1,000-yard receiving threat in the NFL, but he has enough tools in his box to be successful, and potentially come close to matching his college production with enough of a target share.

If Downs was about two to three inches taller, he’d be a sure-fire first-round pick. As is, Downs is likely to come off the board in the second round. Once drafted, Downs should have no trouble getting on the field and making an impact from Day One, no matter where he lands.

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