7 Pitt players find NFL homes in free agent deals


Wide receiver Quadree Henderson will join former teammate James Conner at Heinz Stadium this fall, after being selected in a post-draft free agency deal. (Photo by Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor)

By Hannah Schneider, Joanna Li, and Trent Leonard

Only three Panthers were selected in this year’s NFL draft, starting in round 2 with Brian O’Neill. After the Vikings picked O’Neill, Tampa Bay chose Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round. The Philadelphia Eagles then chose Avonte Maddox with the 125th overall pick. The seven Pitt players in the draft whose names weren’t called found homes through post-draft free agency deals, with one local signing.


Brandon Hodges

Brandon Hodges was signed by the Oakland Raiders within a few hours of the end of the draft, and received a personal congratulations from Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi via Twitter.


Hodges was a late transfer to Pitt last season from Texas. Though short, his time at Pitt was marked by starting plays on the offensive line. Of the eight games he played, he started three at right guard. Like Officer, Hodges was also selected to play in the 2018 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Jaryd Jones-Smith

The Houston Texans picked up offensive lineman Jaryd Jones-Smith in the hours after the draft.

Jones-Smith redshirted his first year in 2013 and went on to play all 13 games in his first active season in 2014. He sustained an off-season knee injury in 2015, which left him unable to play for the season. When he returned in 2016, he played eight games at offensive tackle.

Jones-Smith finished his collegiate career by playing all 12 games in 2017 with a total of 13 starts in 33 games played.

At the NFL combine, 6-foot-6 Jones-Smith impressed scouts — but not just with spectacular performances. His wingspan was recorded at seven feet, four-and-a-half inches — the same as NBA center Dwight Howard— earning him the “Pterodactyl Award,” with the longest wingspan ever recorded since data collection began in 2011.

The hope is that Jones-Smith will continue to develop his natural gifts to his advantage — one comment on his NFL scouting profile read, “Effective use of arm length can shut down one-move rushers.”

Jester Weah

Shortly after signing Jaryd Jones-Smith, the Houston Texans also picked up wide receiver Jester Weah.

After redshirting for one year, Weah found himself low on the Panthers’ receiving depth chart during his freshman and sophomore seasons, during which time he did not record a reception.

But when standout wide receiver Tyler Boyd — now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals — left for the NFL, Weah emerged as Pitt’s number one receiving option in 2016, his junior year. He led the Panthers in receptions with 36, receiving yards with 870 and touchdown catches with 10. Weah established himself as one of the premiere deep threats in college football, with his 24.2 yards per catch ranking second in the nation.

In his senior year this past season, Weah’s teammates chose him as their captain. He once again led the receiving corps with 698 yards and four touchdowns.

Quadree Henderson

Quadree Henderson was the only player to be signed locally.

As a true freshman, Henderson was mainly utilized as a return specialist. He led the Panthers with 504 kickoff return yards on 18 attempts, and returned the opening kickoff of Pitt’s bowl game versus Navy 100 yards for a touchdown.

In his sophomore season Henderson cemented himself as one of the nation’s premiere special teams threats. He led the country in kickoff return touchdowns with 3 and total kickoff return yards with 1,166 — with a memorable 65-yard punt return touchdown against Duke. He was named a first team All-America kick returner by the Football Writers Association of America, making him the first Pitt sophomore to receive first-team honors since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

Henderson expanded his skills beyond special teams in his junior year, his final season with the Panthers. He contributed 251 yards rushing and 186 yards receiving, while also showing his typical explosiveness in the return game with two punt return touchdowns. He finished his career as Pitt’s all-time leader in return touchdowns with seven— four on kickoffs and three on punts. He’ll join former teammate, running back James Conner, on the Steelers.

Matt Flanagan

The Washington Redskins signed tight end Matt Flanagan, per his agent.

Flanagan’s time as a Panther was short, as he transferred as a graduate from Rutgers only last season. But Flanagan started the first nine games of his one season, rounding up 17 receptions for 160 yards. He was named to the All-ACC Academic Football Team in 2017 — a 70-member team comprised of athletes with academic and athletic achievements.

Alex Officer

Alex Officer signed as an undrafted free agent to the Oakland Raiders after the draft.

Starting at Pitt as a redshirt true freshman, Officer played in all 13 games — 10 of those at center, before he switched to right guard his sophomore year. Balancing center and guard for the rest of his career, Officer started in 48 of the 51 games he played. As a senior, he was selected to play in the 2018 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Ryan Winslow

The Chicago Bears also signed Pitt’s Ryan Winslow.

The 6-foot-2 punter took a redshirt in his first year on campus in 2013. He joined the starting lineup his first active season in 2014 and held the position for a second season in 2015. The following year Winslow punted a career-high 11 times at Oklahoma state, and a season-high average of 48.8 yards on five punts at Virginia.

This year, Winslow acted as a reinforcing member of Pitt’s defense, controlling the field with the length of his punts — at Georgia Tech, he averaged a career-high 50.1 yards on seven punts. In Chicago he’ll join punter Pat O’Donnell, who averaged 47.0 yards over his 87 total punts in 2017.