The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday, which generally means teams have finalized their notes and have a hold on where prospects sit on their respective big boards. For the sea of prospects that weren’t afforded the opportunity to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine and deprived of a late push to impress NFL brass at Pro Days due to the global pandemic, however, there has never been more uncertainty as draft day looms. Former Florida wide receiver Josh Hammond, one of the talented quartet of Gators pass catchers, falls into that category.
After breaking his brother Frankie’s receiving records at Hallandale High School, it was only natural that Josh Hammond followed in his older brother’s footsteps to the University of Florida, to continue the legacy.
“I decided right before the summer going into my senior year,” Hammond said. “I went to Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan — a bunch of different schools — just to get a feel for what was out there. Florida just felt like home, I’d been going there since I was nine years old, and it was all I knew.”
Part of a stacked 2016 recruiting class that featured the likes of Chauncey Gardner, Jawaan Taylor, Jachai Polite — and fellow pass catchers Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, and Dre Massey — Hammond’s initial path to playing time appeared daunting.
“The talent level that’s [at Florida] is through the roof,” Hammond acknowledged. “When I came in, I had Teez Tabor, Marcus Maye, Quincy, and all those guys. I went in early in the spring, and practice was brutal; getting open was really hard. You’re getting thrown a big playbook that you’re not accustomed to, because you’re used to a simple playbook in high school. The biggest thing in college, is trying to understand it in a way that works for you.”
While finding success on the practice field was a daily challenge for Hammond — the detailed defensive back contingent had a knack for knowing what route a receiver was running based on their split — he was well-prepared on game day. Hammond went on to appear in all 13 games for the Gators in 2016, including three starts, reeling in 14 receptions for 177 yards.
The six-foot, 194-pound Florida native took on a larger role the following season, playing in ten games (eight starts), hauling in 18 receptions for 246 yards. While Hammond experienced success on the field, finishing third on the team in receptions in 2017, he also excelled off of it, earning SEC Academic Honor Roll recognition.
Despite the addition of Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson prior to the 2018 campaign, Hammond started all 13 games for the Gators, finishing second on the team in receptions (28) and receiving yards (369). He found the end zone for the first time in his Gators career in an uneven bout against Charleston Southern, and added three more throughout the season.
Though the quiet, unassuming, yet determined Florida wideout often operated in relative anonymity on Saturdays, his impact on the field was not lost amongst his peers. Off the field, Hammond assumed a prominent leadership role within his position group, a role he believes he grew into over time.
“It didn’t come natural, it came over time, just from playing experience and being the most mature of the group,” Hammond said. “It just happened one day, I just started leading and tried to be the guy that people would look up to. The younger guys, I tried to help them out and make sure they do things right, plus the knowledge I had with the playbook — I knew everybody’s position, I knew where everybody was supposed to be and what everybody was doing.”
Last season, the Gators receiving corps was comprised of four senior wide receivers with NFL aspirations: Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, and Hammond. While each player had yet to experience a true, breakout campaign at the collegiate level and were up against the clock, the unit was glued together by common goals.
“We were one big unit, one big family,” Hammond said. “There was no individualism between us. If I was going to go get some extra work in, everybody came. It wasn’t just me in there by myself trying to figure things out, the whole receiving corps would come out. We’d be in the indoor until sometimes 9-10 o’clock at night, just trying to get things right, because we knew the talent that we had.”
Hammond appeared in all 13 games a season ago, logging seven starts, accumulating 27 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns. His senior highlights included a season-long 65-yard reception against Miami, which put the Gators in the driver’s seat for the game-winning touchdown, and his 76-yard touchdown run against Kentucky.
The versatile pass catcher demonstrated a knack for manufacturing yards after the catch, as 55 percent of his total receiving yards followed the reception, and he went 20 straight games without dropping a pass.
Hammond re-wrote the family record book once again, this time surpassing his older brother’s statistical output in every category at the collegiate level.
East-West Shrine Bowl
Hammond’s consistent body of work at Florida earned him an invitation to participate in the 95th annual East-West Shrine Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he was accompanied by Swain.
Hammond instantly emerged as a leader for the East team, habitually kicking off each drill and perfecting it, setting the bar high for those that followed. Though reps were few and far between for each member of the immensely deep receiving corps, Hammond impressed with his smooth route running, soft hands, and keen attention to detail. Hammond may have turned heads on the practice field, but it was his visit to the Shriners Hospitals for Children that left a lasting impression on the Gators wide receiver.
“It’s a really nice experience, especially the hospital visit,” Hammond said. “That was something that was really special, for those kids to look forward to that one day, just to see a group of kids who play football. To light up their day, for them to look forward to that one day, that was a really special deal.”
When the NFL Scouting Combine’s official list of participants was released to the public in February, Hammond’s name was noticeably omitted. Jefferson, Cleveland, and Swain made the list, but no Hammond.
“I kind of knew I didn’t have it, because all my other teammates got it a week or two before,” Hammond admitted. “After I knew I didn’t get the mail when they got it, I’m like, ‘All right, I’m probably not going to get the invite’, so I was kind of prepared for it in a way. It’s just something you put a little chip on your shoulder, continue to work and get better and when your opportunity comes, make the most of it.”
Rather than dwell on circumstances out of his control, Hammond focused his attention on Florida’s Pro Day. In preparation for his late-March evaluation, Hammond spent hours under the blazing South Florida sun with an emphasis on speed work and positional drills at a local high school, his days often beginning at 7 A.M.
Though the vast majority of the Pro Day circuit was shortened due the global pandemic, Hammond had his testing recorded at Tequesta Trace Park in Fort Lauderdale. His testing numbers were verified by former NFL player and scout Richard Shelton, and sent to all 32 teams.
Josh Hammond’s NFL Outlook
“He’s a leader on and off the field. He’s a college graduate. Has an extremely fantastic work ethic. He’s got that passion to help others. He’s Mr. Reliable. He’s going to do everything right.” — Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales
Josh Hammond experienced a unique path through Gainesville. He arrived on campus as a four-star recruit amidst a logjam of talent at the wide receiver position. He earned his way onto the field early on, and while he never became the focal point on offense, he remained a factor throughout all four seasons. While Hammond may not have the footwork and explosiveness off the line as Van Jefferson or the vertical presence of Tyrie Cleveland, there is an innate polish to his game that differentiates himself from his counterparts.
For one, Hammond, more quick than he is fast, has a tremendous feel for spacing and boasts the savviness to find the soft spots on short and intermediate routes. Though not advertised as a speed threat, his long speed was hardly utilized at Florida, and could potentially be tapped into at the next level. Hammond also demonstrated a willingness to become an impact performer on all phases of special teams at the Shrine Bowl, and, above all, his football intelligence and leadership qualities should keep him in the hunt for a roster spot this summer.
Next, Josh will look to follow Frankie’s footsteps to the NFL, where he aspires to build on a rapidly growing legacy.