By R.L. Bynum
Wide receiver Josh Downs will continue his football career with the Indianapolis Colts, who took him Friday with the 16th pick of the third round and the 79th overall selection at the NFL Draft in Kansas City, becoming the 10th Carolina player drafted in the last three years.
That’s the highest a UNC wide receiver has gone since Greg Little was the 27th second-round pick and 57th overall selection of the Cleveland Browns in 2010. Downs was the ninth of 12 ACC players selected in the first three rounds.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, and I’m so thankful and blessed to be in this position,” Downs said. “I want to thank the Colts organization for putting their faith in me and giving me the opportunity to represent the franchise. I want to thank my family. Your support has meant everything. I also want to thank all my coaches and teammates throughout the years. You’ve helped me get where I am today, and I appreciate each and every one of you. I can’t wait to get to Indianapolis and get the next part of this journey going.”
On Thursday, Indianapolis made Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson the fourth overall pick.
“This is the exact scenario I wanted to be in,” Downs told the Indianapolis Star. “I wanted to be in a situation with a young quarterback that we could build together, we could build that relationship, and we could have a big future together.”
Also on the roster is quarterback Gardner Minschew. The Colts’ top wide receivers are Alec Pierce, Michael Pittman Jr. and Isaiah McKenzie.
Downs is the first Tar Heel the Colts have picked since linebacker David Thornton went in the fourth round as the 106th overall pick in 2002. He’s the first non-lineman from UNC to be picked by the franchise since the Baltimore Colts selected running back Don McCauley in the first round as the second overall pick of the 1971 draft.
“We’re all so excited for Josh and the Downs family,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “Josh is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, and as a result, became one of the greatest receivers in Carolina history. He constantly works at his craft and takes every opportunity to be the best player he can be. One thing I appreciate about Josh is that he’s never satisfied, and he’s always looking for a way to get better. Those characteristics will serve him well as he transitions to the next level, and I’m looking forward to watching him play with the Colts.”
The Colts finished 4–12–1 and third in the AFC South last season. They fired Coach Frank Reich, now the Carolina Panthers coach, on Nov. 7 of after the team’s 3–5–1 start and made former UNC and Colts center Jeff Saturday the interim coach. Indianapolis only won one of the eight games Saturday coached. The Colts hired Shane Steichen, previously the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, as their head coach on Feb. 14.
“He’s fast, smart, great after the catch,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard told the Indianapolis Star. “Really high character. … Probably one of the best phone calls I think I’ve had since I’ve been here. Emotional, excited, I think you can tell he’s got a little chip on him.”
The team isn’t worried that Downs is only 5–9 and 171 pounds.
“I think if you can have multiple different types of bodies, guys who do certain things well, not have the same guy at every position,” Steichen said at the owner’s meetings, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I like a variation.”
Downs’ three-season total of 2,483 receiving yards is the fourth-highest in Carolina history. In addition, he caught 22 touchdown passes, the second-most in school history. Downs is one of three players in Carolina history with at least 200 career receptions, finishing third on the school’s all-time list with 202.
The two-time All-ACC pick is one of two players in program history with two seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards.
Downs collected a career-high 203 receiving yards on Sept. 18, 2021, in UNC’s 59–39 home win over Virginia. He caught a career-high three touchdown passes last season on Nov. 12 in the 36–34 victory at Wake Forest that clinched the last ACC Coastal Division title.
In 2022, Downs started all 11 games he appeared in. He was named first-team All-America by PFF, tabbed second-team All-America by the AP, FWAA and Phil Steele, was a Biletnikoff Award Semifinalist and named first-team All-ACC.
Downs led ACC wide receivers in the ACC last season. He was was named ACC Receiver of the Week twice while leading the ACC in multiple categories. He led the ACC in receptions (94), yards receiving (1,029), receptions per game (8.5) and yards receiving per game (93.5). He ranked second in the FBS in receptions per game, seventh in touchdown receptions and 11th in receiving yards per game. He became just the third player at UNC with over 90 catches in a season, and his 11 touchdown grabs were the second-most in the ACC and fourth-most in UNC history. Downs finished the season with over 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive season (1,029).
Other Tar Heels hoping to hear their names called are wide receiver Antoine Green, offensive lineman Asim Richards, linebacker Noah Taylor and defensive lineman Ray Vohasek.
In 2022, four Tar Heels were drafted: offensive guard Joshua Ezeudu (third pick in the third round, 67th overall to the New York Giants), quarterback Sam Howell (first pick in the fifth round, 144th overall to the Washington Commanders), running back Ty Chandler (26th pick in the fifth round, 169th overall to the Minnesota Vikings) and offensive guard Marcus McKeithan (30th pick in the fifth round, 173rd overall to the New York Giants).
Photo via @UNCFootball