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Colts rookie Josh Downs’ five best plays before return to Carolina

Downs has the third-most receptions without a charged drop this season, behind Panthers’ Adam Thielen (57) and Saints’ Chris Olave (44).

New Orleans Saints v Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts receiver Josh Downs (1) makes a sideline catch while defended by New Orleans Saints safety Jordan Howden (31) at Lucas Oil Stadium — October 29, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts rookie receiver Josh Downs’ evolution to the most electrifying roster addition is best showcased by an innate ability to attack coverage and haul in contested catches.

The Colts found a gem while scouting the 5-foot-9, 171 pound receiver at North Carolina, who would ultimately earn the starting spot in the slot during training camp. Indianapolis’ third-round draft pick has 40 receptions for 473 receiving yards and two touchdowns, which is the most catches and receiving yards through a Colts player’s first eight games in franchise history. Among rookie receivers, only Rams’ Puka Nacua (61) and Ravens’ Zay Flowers (44) have more receptions than Downs, while Nacua (795) and Vikings’ Jordan Addison (482) have more receiving yards.

Colts receivers coach Reggie Wayne takes the skill group through a catch circuit meeting each week, to exhibit tough catches made throughout the league. Downs can accelerate to beat man coverage or use elite awareness to detect zone coverage and find empty space on the gridiron. According to Pro Football Focus, Downs has the third-most receptions without a charged drop this season, behind Panthers’ Adam Thielen (57) and Saints’ Chris Olave (44).

Highlighted below are the five best plays Downs has made through his first eight NFL games.

No. 5: The Colts rookie dives near the sideline to make a spectacular toe-drag catch on third down. Downs led the Colts in receiving yards for the second consecutive game during the Week 8 loss against the New Orleans Saints.

No. 4: Downs gets outside leverage on a quick out route to retrieve his first NFL touchdown on fourth-&-goal in the Week 6 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars. His release off the line of scrimmage barred cornerback Montaric Brown from being able to get hands on him.

No. 3: Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson slings a missile to the midfield horseshoe and Downs twists and torques his body to snag a 30-yard catch in the Week 4 loss against the Los Angeles Rams.

No. 2: Downs breaks free behind cornerback Denzel Ward for a 59-yard touchdown in the Week 7 loss against the Cleveland Browns, which was the longest reception by a Colts rookie since 2014. The first quarter scoring play ignited Downs to produce his first 100-plus yard performance with a season-best 125 receiving yards on five catches.

No. 1: Richardson launches a deep ball on a corner route and Downs hauls in a 38-yard catch over two defenders in the Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans. The rookie led the Colts with six receptions and 97 receiving yards for the first time in his career.

Despite allowing the most points in the NFL, first-year head coach Shane Steichen has choreographed an explosive offense in his first season. Indianapolis ranks sixth scoring 25.6 points per game and eighth with 362.4 total yards per game. The Colts are the only NFL team to score 20 points in every game, which is the first time Indianapolis has accomplished this feat through eight games since 2014.

“It’s been impressive for a young player,” Steichen told reporters after Wednesday’s walk-through practice. “Obviously, we are halfway through the year and we’ve got a lot of football left, but the way he prepares every week. Just even the off days being in here watching film, getting treatment on his own, catching footballs on the jugs machine. It’s impressive. I think when you do that throughout your career, that is how you get better and that is how you climb.

Gary Downs, Josh’s father, was a third-round pick by the New York Giants in the 1994 NFL Draft and played seven NFL seasons as a running back. Dre Bly, Gary’s brother-in-law and Josh’s uncle, was a second-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 1999 NFL Draft and played 11 seasons, including two Pro Bowl campaigns with the Detroit Lions in 2003-04. Bly was the cornerbacks coach at his alma mater when Downs played at UNC from 2020-22. Downs set single season records with 101 receptions and 1,335 receiving yards in 2021 and finished his collegiate career second in program history in touchdowns, third in receptions and fourth in receiving yards.

Panthers coach Frank Reich spent 11 seasons coaching the Colts, including five seasons as head coach. Under Reich, the Colts posted a 40-33-1 record and made two postseason appearances. Indianapolis aims to end its three-game losing streak in Sunday’s Week 9 road game against Carolina (1-6).