Currently in his fourth season in the NFL, Michael Pittman Jr. has been the established No. 1 receiver for the Indianapolis Colts for three years now. He’s been able to showcase his WR1 ability in 2023 despite Indy’s struggles. While the team is 3-5, and have had two different starting quarterbacks, Pittman has caught 50 passes for 529 yards and three touchdowns— all team leads.
However, for the first time in a few years, the receiver that’s No. 2 in all of these categories is pretty close. Thanks to an impressive rookie season, Josh Downs has emerged as Indy’s second option at receiver, catching 40 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns. With the way things have trended in recent games, it’s fair to ask if Downs could finish the season leading the team in the three major receiving categories.
Could Josh Downs been the Colts leading receiver in 2023?
Of Indy’s eight games, Michael Pittman Jr. has been the leading receiver in four of them. With Drew Ogletree taking the spotlight for one game, Downs was the leader in the other three. Those three came in Indy's last four games, with Josh Downs going for 97 yards in Week 5, 125 in Week 7, and 72 in Week 8.
Most of the time, both Downs and Pittman receive a similar amount of targets; if there is an advantage, it usually goes to Pittman. However, Downs seems to always be wide open, so more of his targets lead to completions. On the season, he has caught 71% of his targets. Pittman has caught 64%, which is still very impressive.
With just 56 receiving yards, 10 receptions, and one touchdown separating the two, it will be an interesting race for the rest of the season. However, there are a few factors that will impact the friendly competition. One of those factors is, of course, health. Downs has been dealing with a knee injury ahead of Indy’s Week 9 matchup but is expected to play.
Another factor is Alec Pierce’s emergence. Originally expected to be WR2 for the Colts, Pierce has been coming on late after a slow start. A more consistent role from him will obviously impact the production of Downs and Pittman but that’s a good thing. It’s actually great that this is even something to monitor because it means that Pittman isn’t the only productive receiver anymore.