Why has rookie receiver Josh Downs suddenly gone quiet for the Colts?

After an impressive start to his career, rookie receiver Josh Downs has been relatively silent in recent games for the Indianapolis Colts.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs (1) completes a catch as Indianapolis Colts cornerback
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs (1) completes a catch as Indianapolis Colts cornerback / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

In the first half of the season, rookie receiver Josh Downs was one of the most exciting stories for the Indianapolis Colts. It didn’t take long for Downs to get acclimated to the NFL, becoming an immediate contributor for the Indianapolis Colts. He wasn’t just contributing either, Downs had established himself as Indy’s second-most productive receiver, closely trailing Michael Pittman Jr. early in the year.

As of late, however, Downs hasn’t been as productive for Indianapolis. Playing in all 13 games this season, Downs has 54 receptions for 612 yards and two touchdowns on the year. His best game came in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns, when he caught five passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

In the six games prior to that elite performance, Downs caught 28 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown. In the six games since that performance, Downs has only caught 21 passes for 211 yards and no touchdowns. So instead of that breakout performance being a springboard moment, Downs’ production has slowed down a bit. Why is that?

Why has Josh Downs slowed down in the second half of the season?

Could it be that Downs hit the proverbial rookie wall? Possibly. There’s always talk about how rookies go from their final college season right into draft prep then directly into the offseason program and quickly transition into the regular season, and how that exhausting journey can led to a mid-season crash.

There’s also a question about Downs’ health. The young receiver has been dealing with a knee issue all season and the injury led to him being pulled from the Week 9 Carolina Panthers game early. Since then, Downs hasn’t had over 50 receiving yards in a single game.

While those are both reasonable options, and could actually be the case, the most plausible option could just be targets. Downs was targeted 41 times in his first six games and just 34 in his last six. The seven-target difference could be why it seems like Downs’ second half of the season is a bit slower than the first half. It’s also possible that expectations are currently higher for Downs than they were earlier in the season and that could be influencing how everyone receives his performances.

With four games remaining in the season, Downs has the opportunity to finish the year strong and could even make a run at a 1000-yard season as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see how involved he is with the offense down the stretch and what he does with the opportunities he gets.