Downs is the No. 4-rated wide receiver in the upcoming draft, according to ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay, making him one of the top receiving prospects available for NFL teams.
Downs had back-to-back seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving for the Tar Heels and caught 22 career touchdown passes. In just three seasons at UNC, he rose to No. 4 on the school's all-time receiving list (2,483) and No. 2 in touchdown catches.
He will not play in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl against Oregon.
Downs said he came to the decision after speaking with his father, Gary Downs, who is a former NFL player who is an assistant coach at East Tennessee State, and his coaches at North Carolina.
"I decided to take it to the next level and declare for the NFL draft," he told ESPN.
Downs said he's confident that he's the "best wide receiver in the draft" and encouraged evaluators to dig into his film.
"I just feel like when you turn on the tape, I consistently win over and over and make plays with the ball when it comes my way," he said.
Downs is listed on his UNC bio at 5-foot-10½ and 175 pounds and his closest NFL comp will be former Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Downs said he's confident he can play both inside and out in the NFL. He said he'll start training soon at EXOS and will head there full-time after the holidays.
"I'm excited to show my real speed in the 40," he said. "I'm going to run a 4.3. I'll put my name on it right now."
Downs credits his father's NFL career for "jump-starting" his own career and feels honored for the chance to follow him to the league.
"I grew up bragging on my dad playing in the NFL," he said. "He was my role model. Of course I wanted to do the same thing."
An NFL scout who studied Downs called him the best draft-eligible "prospect in the state of North Carolina this year." He said Downs' versatility on special teams returning punts for UNC makes him more attractive.
"He's not big, but he's muscled up," the scout said. "He's got enough thickness to him. He's quick as a cat, can get open and can be a dynamic playmaker with the ball. All these NFL receivers are such playmakers now, it's changed the way that teams look at the position."
Downs caught balls at UNC from two of the most productive quarterbacks in college football -- Sam Howell and Drake Maye, who is expected to be a top pick in the 2024 draft. Downs said he chose to play for Mack Brown at North Carolina because of recently departed coordinator Phil Longo's dynamic offense and the way it passed the ball. He complimented Longo's creativity to move him around and get him the ball.
He said he feels fortunate to have had two great quarterbacks help him showcase his skills. At his next stop, Downs said one trait will define him.
"I feel like I'm the hardest worker in America," he said, "and no one is going to outwork me."