INDIANAPOLIS – The tape lied. Or at least it didn’t give an accurate depiction of the diminutive/dynamic subject matter.
The video clearly reinforced Josh Downs’ raw numbers the past two seasons at North Carolina. The 195 receptions, 2,364 yards and 19 touchdowns. The school-record 101 catches and 1,335 yards in 2021. The shiftiness, suddenness and yards-after-the-catch skills while working out of the slot.
Reggie Wayne pored over the video, even saw Downs in person a few times. He joked he probably knew “too much’’ about him.
“University of Miami couldn’t beat him,’’ Wayne said with a chuckle.
Then came the eye test at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February.
The Indianapolis Colts’ receivers coach was helping put the receiver prospects through drills on the Lucas Oil Stadium field.
Wayne’s attention kept gravitating toward the 5-10, 175-pound Downs.
“I thought he was the best receiver at the Combine,’’ he said.
The best receiver in his workout group?
“The best receiver at the Combine,’’ Wayne repeated.
His hard stare reinforced his conviction.
“Actually what I saw at the Combine is not what I saw on tape,’’ he said. “On tape, you kind of looked at him a little bit and things seemed a little bit more controlled.
“At the Combine, you saw his speed. You saw he can run.’’
Wayne insisted Downs’ skillset jumped out at him.
“The way he ran his routes were effortless, you know what I mean?’’ he said. “It was smooth.’’
On a different section of the practice field, general manager Chris Ballard’s eyes were fixed on quarterback drills, because, well, you know why.
At one point, Wayne sauntered over.
“Reggie came over and said, ‘Man, this Josh Downs. It was incredible,’’’ Ballard said. “And he did; he had a great workout.’’
Wayne also shared his assessment with Downs.
“After I got done running my routes, Reggie Wayne came up to me and he said it’s not even close and he told me I was the best receiver there in my group and I had first-round guys in that group as well,’’ Downs said. “I’m not going to name names.’’
Thirty-three receivers were selected in the April draft, including four in each of the first two rounds. The Colts selected Downs in round 3 with the 79th overall pick. He was the 12th receiver off the board.
The Colts had more pressing needs at quarterback (Anthony Richardson, No. 4 overall) and cornerback (JuJu Brents, round 2, No. 44 overall), but Downs always was a large blip on their radar.
That’s in part because of Wayne’s extensive evaluation and unwavering endorsement.
“I’m not necessarily a little-guy receiver, you know what I mean?’’ he said. “But this draft was full of smaller guys. (Downs) stood out and I put an asterisk by his name.
“Then I came into my office and I really dove in deep and did my evaluations and I’m like, ‘Man, this would be perfect if we had him in our offense.’’’
The initial plan is for Downs to primarily work out of the slot and complement the taller outside wideouts – 6-4 Michael Pittman Jr. and 6-3 Alec Pierce – but the Colts believe he eventually can be moved around in the formation as coach Shane Steichen probes for mismatch opportunities.
“He’s the player I think we were missing,’’ Wayne said. “A guy who’s agile, who’s versatile. Guy who can win on the option routes, things of that sort. I think he’s the right fit for us.’’
Wayne is back for a second year as receivers coach, but this is the first time he’s felt capable of being an educated voice in the evaluation of draft prospects. He was added to Frank Reich’s staff in mid-March last offseason. The Combine had come and gone.
“This time last year, man, I had developed an ulcer,’’ Wayne said with a smile. “My head was spinning. I didn’t get here until after the Combine.
“Then it was like, got here and there were no tutoring sessions: ‘Here you go. You’ve got to evaluate these dudes.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing this right.’ There was no template. Had to come in and had to kind of go around and ask questions here and there.
“There was no ‘Evaluations for Dummies.’’’
Year 2 has been a smoother process, both for Wayne, the position coach, and Wayne, the talent evaluator.
What’s been clear in the case of Josh Downs is Wayne and Ballard’s personnel staff essentially saw the same thing, and that’s an intriguing prospect and an ideal fit.
“I do think they liked him as well,’’ Wayne said. “When you’ve got me liking him and them liking him, that’s a win-win.
“It’s one of those things where you say, ‘Here are my top five guys. These are my next five, my next tier.’ We sit and we talk. We go back and forth. We have some disagreements, but I love a good debate.
“Everybody I like, I’m their lawyer. I’m fighting for ‘em. I’m telling the the pros, the cons, how I think they can help. They go against the grain, I go back at ‘em. I counter offer.
“I get to play Matlock.’’
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