1. Josh Downs, North Carolina
Over the last two seasons, with two different quarterbacks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more consistent and productive wide receiver in college football than North Carolina’s Josh Downs. Sure, one of those quarterbacks is set to be a starter in the NFL next season and the other a Heisman Trophy favorite and likely first-round pick, but Downs deserves a ton of credit for his own production.
Downs’ tape has been my favorite to watch of any wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft. Even once I had a good idea of what I was seeing with Downs, I continued to watch game after game to see what he had in store. He didn’t ever disappoint. Right now, I have him ranked behind only Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jordan Addison, so if he is available at pick 42, I would be jumping for joy.
Even though he’s just 5-foot-10, Downs is the complete package, in my mind. He truly possesses everything that you look for in a successful wide receiver besides the size. First, Downs is tough as nails and as fiery of a competitor as you’ll find. He fights for extra yards, gives up his body as a blocker, makes catches over the middle of the field, and will not be outworked.
Further, Downs has an incredibly impressive blend of power, speed, and athleticism. Once you get the ball in his hands, he is very tough to bring down. He can run by you, around you, or through you.
He’s a very sound route runner with very sticky and reliable hands. He excels in the red zone and is very effective at all levels of the field. He may not be quite as fast as guys like Scott, Hyatt, and Flowers, but he has plenty of burst to take the top off the defense and to take short catches the distance.
With his size and volume, many will pigeonhole Downs as a slot receiver. That would be a huge mistake. Sure, he excels in the slot, but he is a dynamic playmaker that will complement Cooper and Peoples-Jones absolutely perfectly. Giving Stefanski another versatile piece to deploy in the offense with Watson could make the Cleveland Browns even more dangerous in 2023.