The NFL Draft came and went this weekend and, at the end of it, it was easy for Pitt fans to notice a particular name not called - wide receiver/return man Quadree Henderson.
Henderson, of course, made a somewhat curious decision to leave school early. While certainly skilled as a return man, his receiving abilities were the big question mark. Henderson does apparently have a deal to join the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent, so he’ll get a look. But this obviously wasn’t what Henderson had in mind when he made the decision to leave Pitt after his junior year.
Before we get too far along here, what people shouldn’t be doing is pulling the ‘I told you so’ routine. There’s no sense in kicking a guy when he’s down - especially when said guy was a big reason why Pitt has had some success under Pat Narduzzi. Henderson was a dynamic playmaker for Pitt and the idea of cheering that guy when he’s wearing the uniform then laughing at him for making a poor decision is just kind of stupid. I know there’s going to be some degree of fans taking some pleasure in this but that’s really the wrong attitude.
All of that said, this was another painful reminder of guys maybe thinking their stock is a little higher than it was. Henderson was showing up as a mid-round guy, I believe, in some projections. And I can’t imagine he would have made this decision knowing this would have been the outcome. But as I said before, there are very few guys who stick in the league as purely a returner. And while Henderson was technically listed as a wide receiver, he really struggled to much of anything there.
Henderson was actually a much more effective running back than pass catcher. Let that sink in. He had a total of 473 receiving yards (887 on the ground) at Pitt.
In three seasons.
I’m not saying he can’t develop into a more effective receiver. But his problem is that teams looking to draft guys aren’t going to be impressed by those kinds of numbers. There are just way too many other options out there. I have no idea what the numbers are on this but I can’t imagine there are many other guys that started for two seasons with career numbers as low has Henderson’s.
If you have low receiving totals, you better be establishing yourself as a guy that’s doing something exceptional like being a deep ball threat, a guy moving the chains on third down, etc. Aside from being an excellent return man on special teams, Henderson’s biggest niche was actually as a running back on gadget plays and that’s simply not attractive enough at the next level because those sorts of plays aren’t as successful against NFL defenses.
Keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily the end for Henderson. Guys have gotten to the league via the undrafted free agent route and while his receiving skills are questionable, he was an elite return man in college. If he gets the chance to show some coaches what he can do there either with the Steelers or somewhere else, it’s not hard to imagine him getting deep into fall camp.
And the alternative line of thinking is that, what if coming back for his senior season actually hurt him? That might seem far-fetched and, I’m not particularly buying into that, either. But he at least had the disaster of a quarterback situation last year to sort of downplay his lack of production. His stock could have theoretically gotten even worse next year if his receiving numbers stalled again. And imagine if he was less effective in the return game, too, let alone the concerns for experiencing an injury. I don’t think it was the right decision but I can at least see if those thoughts crossed his mind.
Returning for his senior season probably made the most sense despite all of that. His receiving numbers were so bad that, realistically, the only way to go would have been up. Henderson had only 17 catches last year. And unless you’re a guaranteed early-round pick, the injury concerns can’t drive your decision, either. Injuries happen at all levels of football. The decision is his and no one has the right to make it for him. But I do hope the experience at least provides a cautionary tale for players that may not be so sure.
I hope Quadree lands somewhere and sticks, I really do. Just seeing him try to return kicks at the NFL level, if nothing else, would be a lot of fun. And if nothing else, I’d love for him to get a legit chance to play at the highest level just because he can be an exciting player to watch. For now, though, this is just sort of a disappointing end to a nice collegiate career.
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