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Pitt's Quadree Henderson 'dreaming' of being selected in NFL Draft

The Tribune-Review, Greensburg — Joe Rutter The Tribune-Review, Greensburg

April 16--Quadree Henderon sees other diminutive wide receivers succeeding in the NFL and wonders, "Why not me?"

The chance to see how he measures up was one of the reasons he left Pitt with a year of eligibility remaining to enter the NFL Draft.

Henderson stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 190 pounds, but he doesn't see his slight build as a reason he can't play football at its highest level.

"I can't control my size," Henderson said. "If I was Albert Einstein in the lab, I would make myself 6-2, 235, running a 4.3, but I can't control that. I'm happy with my size."

And he's happy to try to follow in the footsteps of Tavon Austin and Tyreek Hill, two other smallish wide receivers who have forged NFL careers.

Austin, the former West Virginia wide receiver, also is 5-8. He is entering his sixth season with the Los Angeles Rams. Hill, at 5-10, surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in 2017, his second NFL season with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he already has four career returns for touchdowns.

"Before games, I used to watch Tavon Austin highlights from West Virginia," Henderson said last month at Pitt's pro day. "Tyreek Hill has paved the way for smaller guys to make plays in the NFL."

The differences are Austin and Hill exhausted all of their college eligibility before heading to the NFL. Austin finished eighth in the 2012 Heisman Trophy balloting and was a first-round draft pick. Hill bounced to three schools and would have been drafted higher than the fifth round if not for a domestic violence arrest on his resume.

Henderson, 21, returned four kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns in his three years at Pitt, but he is projected as a late-round draft pick largely because he wasn't heavily used as a pass catcher. He caught just 45 passes, with a high of 26 as a sophomore.

"It's not my job to say whether he's ready," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. "It's when he's ready and when his family thinks he's ready, and that's what they thought. I think everybody, unless you're a first- or second-rounder, you should stay, but that's for them to decide."

Henderson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which he said was slow for him, at the NFL Combine, and that might hinder his draft prospects. Still, he doesn't regret his decision to leave school early.

"I've been dreaming of this moment since I was five years old," he said. "It's here on the table. You run the risk of getting hurt next year and having a season-ending injury. ... My dreams would be crushed."

As Pitt's career leader in combined kick returns for touchdowns, Henderson didn't need to work on the special teams facet of his game once he declared for the draft. Proving his worth as a wide receiver was another matter.

He worked at a performance center in Florida where his routes were scrutinized by former NFL wide receivers Anquon Boldin and Chad Johnson.

"I'm trying to show that I'm more than a special teams guy," Henderson said. "My route tree there (at Pitt), we didn't throw the ball like that. We threw the ball, but I never really got passes targeted my way. I ran routes, but the quarterback would throw to someone else.

"I want to show them I can catch, can run the routes cleanly and attack the ball."

At Pitt's pro day, which was attended by representatives from all 32 NFL teams, Henderson said he shaved at least one-tenth of a second off his 40 time. Narduzzi hopes that helped Henderson in the eyes of talent evaluators.

"He needs to prove he's a receiver," Narduzzi said. "That's what these workouts are for. That's what the combine is for. He's a talented athlete, and he's got to show he can be a great receiver, too. Another year would have helped that happen as far as getting down the field. Or maybe it wouldn't. Who knows?

"I had him for three years. He's incredible, one of the best in the country as far as a return guy. If somebody needs that, he's going to go high."

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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