The Indianapolis Colts could heavily feature rookie wide receiver Josh Downs throughout Sunday’s regular-season opener with the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Nate Atkins. The Colts will be without several regular offensive starters on Sunday and Downs is capable of taking advantage of his opportunities.
Superstar running back Jonathan Taylor is beginning the campaign on the PUP, ruling him out for a minimum of four contests. Taylor’s status with the franchise remains in doubt even beyond that. Starting tight end Jelani Woods was placed on IR with a torn hamstring injury, and will also miss four-plus games. The Colts must replace the production Taylor and Woods typically offer their offense. Downs is a strong candidate to see an increased workload as a result.
Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson will be making his official NFL debut against the Jaguars. Head coach Shane Steichen should create a game plan that helps ease Richardson into professional action. The dual-threat Richardson is an exciting playmaker, but remains a work in progress as a passer, as all rookie quarterbacks do. Designing some layups to help Richardson capture some quick confidence should be a vocal point for Steichen and his staff.
Manufactured touches and one-read throws are primarily where Downs could help Richardson gain some easy completions. Downs is a quick-twitched, sudden route-runner. He will provide Indianapolis’ passing offense with a quick-developing option due to his intriguing run-after-the-catch potential in the open field.
Downs is one of just four receivers the Colts kept on their initial 53-man roster. It signals a lack of depth. Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce are big-bodied starters on the boundary. Downs has a specific role as the starting slot in three-receiver sets. Downs is firmly ahead of Isaiah McKenzie, who was waived by the team during final roster cuts, but quickly re-signed just days later.
The Colts may have to promote or elevate somebody from the practice squad to field a fifth receiver against the Jaguars. Candidates include Racey McMath and Michael Strachan Jr. None of them would interfere with Downs’ expected playing time.
Taylor’s absence especially looms large. The Colts will be fielding a mishmash backfield consisting of Zack Moss, Evan Hull, and Deon Jackson. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dynamic Downs lined up next to Richardson in the backfield on occasion. That’s a lot of athleticism for defenses to deal with.
The No. 79 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, Downs appeared in all three of the Colts’ preseason games. The former North Carolina standout hauled in four receptions on seven targets for 49 yards. Downs averaged a chain-moving 12.3 yards per reception. He also averaged 5.0 yards after catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. It served as an appropriate preview of what’s to come.
Downs’ stop-start ability makes him a nightmare assignment for opposing cornerbacks in man coverage. It wouldn’t be shocking if Downs flirted with 10 targets against the Jaguars on Sunday. Downs is going to be a focal point of Steichen’s offensive approach.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023