UNC football's Josh Downs believes he's 'best receiver' in 2023 NFL Draft

Rodd Baxley
The Fayetteville Observer

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina football’s Josh Downs knows the date and has an idea of what to expect once it arrives.

In another month, the former Tar Heel wide receiver will be eagerly waiting by his cell phone to receive a call during the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 27-29. 

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Downs got a chance to show off his skills Monday morning in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams at the Bill Koman Practice Complex. Roughly 126 people – including 45 NFL personnel – watched as Downs and four other Tar Heels take part in UNC’s Pro Day. 

“It’s a job interview, but it’s the most important job interview of your life,” Downs said of the pre-draft process. “After that, you’ve got to go on the field and show what you came here for.”

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His statistics as a Tar Heel speak volumes. Downs had 202 catches for 2,483 yards – the fourth-highest total in UNC history – and 22 touchdowns (the second-most in program history) in 28 games. He missed two games with injury in 2022, but finished with 94 catches for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He is one of three players in UNC history with a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. 

Downs didn’t run the 40-yard dash on Monday, but he recorded a time of 4.48 at the NFL Combine. Instead, Downs focused on his route running – catching passes from UNC quarterback Drake Maye – and agility drills. 

“They just tell me they love my quickness, my route running. A lot of teams love my ability to go up and get the ball, as well – they like that a lot,” Downs said of his feedback from NFL teams. 

“They love me as a receiver and possible returner. … I just tell them they’re getting the best receiver in the draft, first and foremost. They’re getting a versatile player, as well. I think I can make plays on all levels of the field – I’m not a one-trick pony. I feel like they’re getting a very versatile receiver.” 

Where will Josh Downs get drafted? 

Downs said he’s met with 15-20 teams, including the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints on Sunday night in Chapel Hill. He was set to hear from the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys on Monday afternoon. 

“I haven’t talked to the Panthers a whole bunch as much as other teams – as everybody would think – but a little bit,” Downs said, adding that he planned to take the Wonderlic test for the Panthers. 

As for when he could hear his name called during the draft, Downs said his agent is saying “top 50 – probably the range from 25-45.” 

“You never know until draft night comes,” he added. As it stands, gives Downs a prospect grade of 6.46 and projects him to be a “good starter within two years.” 

“I laid down very good times and I had very good routes,” Downs said of his combine performances, adding that scouts were coming up to him saying he had “one of the cleanest workouts” they had seen in the past few years. 

Short but not small

Downs, who figures to be a slot receiver in the NFL, doesn’t have the size of some wideouts in his class, but he’s adamant there’s a difference between being short and small.

“It is what it is. In the sport of football, you got giants out there, so I’m gonna be considered short,” Downs said. 

“I don’t like the word ‘small’ because I don’t feel like I play small – I’m not small on the field. … I don’t mind being called short. I say small is more something that just motivates me like, ‘OK, you think I’m small? I’m gonna show you something.’ ” 

Downs' NFL Draft destination 

Because Downs is projected to be anywhere from a late first-round pick to a second-day selection, he plans to stick close to home for a draft party with friends and family. 

When asked what team he would prefer to play for, Downs didn’t single out any particular squad, but he answered the question in a different way. 

“I don’t even know a specific team, I’d have to just say a very good, elite quarterback – Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert – I probably want to play with one of those guys,” he said. 

“A great pocket-passer, put the ball anywhere you need it, a guy that makes me look good and I can make them look good, too. Those guys are great.” 

Whether it’s New York, Los Angeles or anywhere in between, Downs will be ready to go wherever he can to fulfill his dream. 

“I’m definitely excited for it, 'cause as a kid I remember watching the draft,” he said. “I’m definitely gonna cry. … It’s gonna be memorable.”

Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at or @RoddBaxley on Twitter.