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'It wasn't easy': Pitt's Quadree Henderson to enter NFL Draft

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, 12:21 p.m.
Pitt's Quadree Henderson runs the ball against Penn State in the first quarter  Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Quadree Henderson runs the ball against Penn State in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium.
Pitt Quadree Henderson gets around Youngstown State's Lee Wright in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt Quadree Henderson gets around Youngstown State's Lee Wright in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Heinz Field.

During the most recent of Zeb Blum's many conversations with Pitt junior Quadree Henderson, an important point became increasingly clear:

Henderson would not make an uninformed decision about his possible NFL future.

No wonder Blum, who was Henderson's coach at Alexis I. DuPont High School in Wilmington, Del., wasn't surprised when Henderson announced via Twitter on Monday morning that he will give up his final year of eligibility at Pitt to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.

“It's very clear he put a lot of time into this decision,” Blum said. “It wasn't easy.

“He's done all his research. There's nothing that makes me more proud than knowing he isn't making a knee-jerk decision.”

Blum said NFL teams called the school to inquire about Henderson's character.

“If they are being that diligent that they are researching that far back, he is definitely on their radar,” Blum said.

Henderson, 21, will leave Pitt as one of its most dynamic offensive playmakers. He holds the Pitt career record for return touchdowns (seven: four kickoffs, three punts), and he is one of only two players in school history to compile more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season. He recorded 2,083 during his All-American season in 2016, second only to Tony Dorsett's 2,217 in 1976.

Blum said the risk of injury might have played a part in Henderson's decision. Henderson never missed a game this season, but he wasn't always totally healthy, especially early.

“Injuries always play a part in deciding if you want to take an extra year,” Blum said. “ ‘Am I going to move that much further up (draft boards) by staying?'

“The biggest thing for me is making sure the education part of it is done. He seems to be in a pretty good place with his degree. The rest of it he can finish online.”

He added, “I know he really enjoys Pittsburgh, the staff and the guys he plays with.”

Henderson, 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, is very similar in build to former North Carolina returner Ryan Switzer, who was drafted in the fourth round this year by the Dallas Cowboys.

NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt, a former Cowboys executive, said Henderson's path to the NFL won't be an easy one.

“I met him at the Walter Camp All-American banquet last year,” Brandt said. “The guy carries himself well, but I just think that they look fast at the college level, but they're all faster and all quicker in the NFL.

“Kick returners are not quarterbacks. Usually, there is not a priority on (drafting) a kick returner.”

Speaking generally about all underclassmen, Brandt added, “Unless they're going to be a top 10 pick, I'm against them leaving school.”

Losing Henderson is no insignificant blow to Pitt's hopes of recovering from its 5-7 season.

Although he never developed into a productive pass catcher, Henderson's speed made him a breakaway threat every time he touched the ball. Lining up as a wide receiver, he was especially threatening on jet sweeps that became Pitt's signature play on offense in 2016.

That year, he finished second to James Conner with 631 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Overall, he scored 10 times that season, including three on kickoffs, one on a punt and one reception.

This season, the jet sweeps were less effective, and he ran for only 251 yards on 36 carries. His receptions fell from 26 to 17 and receiving yards from 286 to 186. His only touchdowns occurred on two punt returns.

Sophomore running back Chawntez Moss said via text message he will not return in 2018. A team spokesman said Moss was dismissed.

Moss was suspended by Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi before the sixth game and carried only once after that.

Moss started training camp as an important part of the mix at running back. He didn't play in the opener — one of five games he missed — but he gained a season-high 46 yards against Penn State and led all Pitt rushers the following week with 36 yards against Oklahoma State.

In his last full game Sept. 30, he started and scored two touchdowns in the victory against Rice.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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