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The (Tiny) Hand of Goff

Jared Goff fumbled yet again on Sunday, this time ending the Rams’ chances at winning. It’s become a troubling trend for the fourth-year pro, but is it a sign of the predraft measurable that concerned scouts or an even bigger problem for Los Angeles?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s time to re-open the discussion: Are Jared Goff’s hands too tiny for him to be an effective NFL quarterback?

Heading into the 2016 draft, that was one of the main questions surrounding the Cal passer. At the NFL combine that year, Goff’s hands measured in at 9 inches flat from thumb to pinky. That’s an exceptionally slight measurement for a quarterback who was expected to be taken at the very top of the draft, as most passers measure between 9.5 and 10 inches. The concern for NFL scouts is that small hands can lead to issues with ball security, and Goff fumbled the football 23 times in three seasons (37 games) at Cal.

Goff dismissed those concerns after his combine, but then his hands suddenly grew, measuring in at 9 ⅛ inches at his pro day a month later. Some quarterbacks will do stretches or get massages to increase their hand size for their official measurements, and it’s possible Goff did the same—the scrutiny that comes with being an NFL draft prospect is wild.

Once the Rams took Goff with the no. 1 pick and his career subsequently went on a Jeff Fisher– and Sean McVay–fueled rollercoaster, those concerns about his small hands ended up long forgotten. But on Sunday, a fumble ultimately doomed the Rams in what became a 55-40 loss to the Buccaneers:

This was a game-ender for Goff and the Rams, who were attempting to make a comeback drive with just 1:17 left, down 48-40. Ndamukong Suh, the former Ram, returned the fumble for a score, extinguishing L.A.’s perfect record and bringing back memories of the predraft concerns surrounding Goff.

While even a large-handed quarterback may have fumbled this football, this is part of a concerning trend for Goff. That was his 14th fumble in his last 13 games, including the playoffs. That dates back to the Rams’ 2018 Week 11 showdown with the Chiefs (in which Goff fumbled twice), and Goff has fumbled in every single game except for the Super Bowl in that stretch.

So what’s the deal? Are Goff’s hands tinier than Trump’s? Is he secretly related to the Maharelle sisters? Do his friends feel compelled to turn away when he eats a Whopper? Or is this all just an overblown concern stemming from a usually irrelevant combine measurement that we all forgot about three years ago?

Goff is, indeed, one of the more fumble-prone quarterbacks in the league. Overall, since entering the league in 2016, Goff has put the ball on the grass 29 times in the regular season, good for fifth-most in the league in that stretch. He’s also played in just 42 games, fewer than everyone above him and the 10 players immediately below him on that list.

But the players above him aren’t exactly afflicted with the same small hands that Goff has. Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Russell Wilson all have hand sizes well above 9.5 inches, and Jameis Winston clocked in at 9 ⅜. That fits with what we should expect: Historically, hand size and fumble rate for NFL quarterbacks has been only weakly correlated.

Additionally, Goff has risen up that leaderboard only recently. In Goff’s first two seasons in the league—in which he appeared in 23 games, including the playoffs—he fumbled just 13 times. And even in the first 10 weeks of last season, Goff fumbled just four times. Nearly half of Goff’s career fumbles have come since November 19, a stretch of just 13 games.

So what’s going on? Goff’s tiny-hands problem is more adequately described as a ball-security problem. It’s concerning for the Rams that most of his recent fumbles are a result of the same issues: a lapse in pocket presence and a tendency to hold onto the football a beat too long. Here was his fumble last Sunday against the Browns, at the end of the second quarter:

And then, of course, his fumble in Week 2 against the Saints, which was blown dead on the field but later reversed:

These two plays look shockingly similar to Sunday’s: pressure getting to Goff as he spends just a hair too much time in the pocket, seemingly unaware of the defenders swarming around him. Each play has also come—coincidentally or not—at a big moment, with time running out or with the Rams looking to score.

None of these plays, though, were caused by the size of Goff’s hands. There is a much simpler explanation for these fumbles: the Rams offensive line. After having arguably the best pass-blocking line in the league last season, the Rams came into Sunday having allowed 50 pressures per Pro Football Focus, the most in the league. The Rams turned over multiple offensive linemen in free agency and are relying on the oldest left tackle in the league in 37-year-old Andrew Whitworth, and the subsequent problems shown by that unit have gummed up L.A.’s offense and could exacerbate Goff’s fumbleitis.

Goff also has a tendency to hold onto the football. Last season, he took 2.95 seconds to throw, per Next Gen Stats, tied for the fifth-longest mark in the league. He’s been a bit faster this season (2.75 seconds, 14th), but it’s clear that Goff will be under more pressure than he’s accustomed to this season. If he can’t get the ball out quicker—or find some other way of avoiding hits and pressure—then he will continue to suffer the occasional fumble. And that means we’ll keep talking about hand size.