When Mack Brown made his return to Chapel Hill, it quickly became apparent that recruiting would be a major focus.
The 2020 class is his first after a full year back under the helm, and the highest rated among those players is wide receiver Josh Downs.
The four-star prospect from North Gwinnett, GA is not only a great football player, but also a perfect fit for the North Carolina offense. Despite a small frame of 5’10” and 165 pounds, Downs proved to one of the most electrifying athletes in the country. As a junior in high school he ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 42 inches in the vertical.
Downs has a polished skill set that made him an extremely difficult cover at the high school level. His quick feet and multiple release packages made pressing him a risky call. His favorite first step is a hop that makes his route unpredictable. It also opens up his hips and allows him to move full speed in several directions. If the corner missed on his jam at the line of scrimmage, Downs could easily get behind the defense in seconds. This led many corners to sag off, giving him ample space to slice through coverages.
His route running is also impressive. Downs knows how to stick his driving leg into the turf and break into his cuts. This, paired with his top end speed and quickness, meant that space is also luxury for him.
He becomes most dangerous with the ball in his hands. Downs is also a punt returner, and that shows with open field speed and vision. Quite often he would catch a short pass in space and turn a first down into a touchdown. He knows how to set up his blocks and use a defender’s pursuit angle against them.
Downs will need to adjust to playing against bigger, faster corners at the next level. However, his is skill set is one that can translate at all stages of the game. He will need to refine and expand his releases in order to guarantee separation, but he is already ahead of the curve for most players of his age.
Where He Fits
UNC is going to be loaded at the receiver position next year. The Tar Heels are returning two 1,000-yard receivers with Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown, and they are also bringing back several players that look to make major contributions to the offense. Beau Corrales earned a major role as a big body target and will be a senior. Other names to watch are Toe Groves, Antoine Green, Emery Simmons, and Khafre Brown.
Despite entering a deep position, Downs could find himself in the mix early on for Carolina. Brian Hess, UNC’s strength and conditioning coach, highlighted Downs as one of the standouts among the early enrollees. This early experience with the team and ability to add strength to his frame will be huge for him moving forward.
Downs also has the advantage of being extremely versatile. With his mix of speed and skill, he can line up at any receiver position. Fans can expect to see him make much of his impact in the slot. His athleticism could make him a nightmare for nickel corners and linebackers. Given that he will won’t be the first concern for defensive coordinators, he could take advantage of additional space. It will give the Tar Heels yet another dynamic option in a potent passing game.
He will demand respect from coverages, and he has a chance to be the next great wide receiver for North Carolina. With how Phil Longo loves to spread the defense and run with a ‘hair-on-fire’ type pace, Downs could be a name to watch as a freshman.