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Colts Training Camp Battle: Isaiah McKenzie vs Josh Downs

  • Justin Melo
  • July 27, 2023
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Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Josh Downs has a chance to complement Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr. in three-receiver sets. Downs will face competition from veteran free-agent signing Isaiah McKenzie. The winner of this pending positional battle will serve as the Colts’ starting slot wideout.

The Colts were in the market for a new starting slot receiver this offseason after Parris Campbell signed with the New York Giants in free agency. Campbell was a workhorse for the Colts in the slot throughout the 2022 campaign, playing 756 of his 974 total snaps from that alignment, per Pro Football Focus. His departure frees up 91 targets, 63 receptions, 623 receiving yards, and three touchdowns from last season.

The No. 79 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, Downs is a dynamic receiver with electric stop-start ability. A quick-twitched and sudden route-runner, Downs’ easy change-of-direction abilities make him a nightmare assignment for opposing cornerbacks in coverage. If Downs quickly acclimates to the pro game, he’ll provide Indianapolis’ offense with a quick-hitting passing option due to his ability to uncover. Downs also has intriguing run-after-the-catch potential. Downs will have to prove he’s capable of learning the offensive playbook. He was tasked with getting comfortable with his surroundings throughout rookie minicamp, OTAs, and then full-team minicamp. Those experiences should help Downs hit the ground running at training camp.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard has some insurance for the position in case Downs needs to be brought along slowly in July and August. McKenzie was signed to a one-year contract worth $1.2 million. McKenzie is a shrewd lost-cost addition that brings depth, experience, and competition to Indianapolis’ offense.

McKenzie played for the Buffalo Bills last season and led their high-octane offense in snaps from the slot with 425. All in all, McKenzie was involved in more than 50 percent of the Bills’ total offensive plays. He recorded 42 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a proven pro with a history of production.

McKenzie is a candidate to receive manufactured touches. His placement on the field immediately stresses defenses. Communication is key pre-snap because McKenzie is capable of motioning around the offensive formation. Like Downs, McKenzie is a threat to create for himself after the catch. McKenzie averaged 3.1 yards after catch per reception,  via PFF. Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen enjoyed a passer rating of 95 when targeting McKenzie.

Downs and McKenzie are both entering their first season with the Colts. They’ll be playing for first-year head coach Shane Steichen and alongside rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. Whichever receiver sticks out has an opportunity to establish themselves as a critical piece for years to come.

Indianapolis’ exciting new regime is building toward the future. Downs should eventually develop into a difference-making receiver. McKenzie is a short-term solution, but he’s capable of playing himself into a larger role while attempting to earn a bigger payday next offseason. The Colts have options in the passing game, which should lead to production from the slot.

Written By

Justin Melo