Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs steps into a crowded WR room, but also a relatively weak one. Could Downs work his way into a starting role at some point this year? What is his fantasy football outlook for the 2023 season?
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Josh Downs’ Fantasy Outlook
Over the past few years, rookie wide receivers have been quite impactful in fantasy, especially over the second half of the season — when it matters most. Downs likely won’t matter much to start the year, but could there be a path to him following the trend of a strong finish to his rookie season?
The Colts did give Downs Day 2 draft capital, but they took him in the third round after many draft analysts projected him to go in the second. That doesn’t preclude Downs from being successful, but third-round wide receivers do have a lower hit rate than second-rounders.
Downs looks more like your modern NFL WR prospect. At 5’9″, 171 pounds, he would’ve been considered severely undersized just a few years ago. Now, more and more receivers look like DeVonta Smith.
At college, Downs’ final two seasons were immensely productive. Over his final 24 collegiate games, he caught 195 passes for 2,364 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 2021 target share was a super elite 38.7%, and in his final season, he had a ridiculous 78.3% catch rate.
Downs will fit right in as the Colts’ primary slot receiver. He should immediately start in three-receiver sets and be a useful piece of Indianapolis’ offense. There’s no doubt in my mind Downs can play at the NFL level. The concern here is whether that will translate to fantasy production.
Should Fantasy Managers Draft Downs at His ADP?
There’s a very clear hierarchy among Colts wide receivers. Michael Pittman Jr. is going way ahead of Alec Pierce, who is going way ahead of Downs at his WR84 ADP. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given the state of Indianapolis’ offense.
While Matt Ryan proved to be washed last season, the Colts had a 58% neutral game-script pass rate. That’s coming way down with rookie Anthony Richardson under center. Richardson’s mobility, plus Jonathan Taylor’s presumed health, should have this team running the ball far more often.
As the Fantasy Footballers pointed out, 70% of rookie quarterbacks since 2004 have failed to support even a single top-36 wide receiver. And no rookie QB has ever supported two top-40 options. If the Colts are going to have a top-36 fantasy receiver in 2023, it’s probably going to be Pittman. The odds are severely against Downs mattering in fantasy this season.
My projections have Downs catching 36 passes for 369 yards and 1.7 touchdowns. That comes out to 5.1 PPR fantasy points per game, which is nowhere close to being someone who will matter in fantasy.
Downs is on what should be a run-heavy offense, playing with a rookie quarterback, and third on his team’s depth chart. At best, perhaps he can post a WR4 season, and that’s if everything breaks right.
Ultimately, I don’t see any plausible path to Downs as a productive fantasy asset this season. Based on his ADP, fantasy managers agree. Downs is ranked as my WR74, which is above consensus, but I have no interest in drafting him, even in the final rounds of deeper leagues.
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