Kenny Pickett had something to hide. At the Senior Bowl in February, the QB prospect out of Pitt opted out of hand measurements in an attempt to delay the world from finding out about his minuscule mittens. He claimed that his double-jointed thumb would have made the measurements inaccurate—a seemingly convenient excuse.
But measurement day at the NFL draft combine came on Thursday, and the horrible truth was revealed: Pickett’s throwing hand is a measly 8.5 inches from thumb to pinkie, well below the commonly accepted threshold of 9 inches.
Pickett had a successful college career, winning an ACC championship at Pitt, and he came into this week on the verge of achieving his NFL dreams. The Ringer’s NFL Draft Guide listed him as the no. 16 prospect in the draft and the top quarterback. Now, we have to throw all of that out the window. If a QB-needy team in a cold-weather city like the Steelers is looking for a passer, they have to avoid Pickett—sure, we just watched him thrive for four years in Pittsburgh, but what evidence do we have that he could thrive in Pittsburgh? And how can we take his word after his monthslong attempt to keep the world from discovering his hand size? He’s double-jointed and two-faced. I wouldn’t trust him to QB my team, or open a jar. (Kidding, except about that jar thing.)
On the one (large) hand, the importance of hand size for NFL quarterbacks seems to be completely overblown. ESPN’s David Fleming thoroughly debunked the “hand-size myth” in 2020, noting that there is no statistical correlation between hand size and any element of quarterback play, and he argued that teams should actually measure players’ grip strength rather than pure inches. The year before for USA Today, my now-colleague Steven Ruiz jokingly found that there is a stronger correlation between name length and fumbles than between hand size and fumbles.
The largest measured QB hands in NFL history belong to Jim Druckenmiller, a first-round bust from 1997 who threw more interceptions than touchdowns with his 11.25-inch paws. The largest QB hands in the NFL last season belonged to Jake Dolegala (11.13 inches), but he’s never made it into a game. If NFL teams were once scared off by hand size, they don’t seem to be anymore. Two of the past six no. 1 overall picks, Joe Burrow and Jared Goff, have 9-inch hands. Even the process of measuring hand size in sports is questionable—the NBA uses distance from the tip of the middle finger to the wrist in addition to the NFL’s thumb-to-pinky measurement. (Kawhi Leonard would demolish Kenny Pickett in a thumb war.)
On the other (small) hand, 8.5 inches is teensy. Pickett would have the smallest hands of any QB currently in the NFL—the current smallest belong to Taysom Hill, who is debatably a quarterback. And according to this database that includes more than 600 QB prospect hand sizes dating back to the 1980s, only 25 have had hands measuring 8.5 inches or smaller. Only one QB with hands smaller than 9 inches has been a first-round pick, and that was Michael Vick—a pretty significant outlier because of his one-of-a-kind athletic abilities. Pickett might have invented the Fake QB Slide, but he’s not Mike Vick. The 9-inch threshold is actually a pretty solid rule of thumb-to-pinky: Basically just Vick and Tony Romo have had lengthy careers with hands under 9 inches.
So generally speaking, hand size may not matter. But very few players with hands as small as Pickett’s have found NFL success. Will Pickett find a way to thrive in spite of his tiny ticklers? Or will he be doomed by those diminutive digits? We won’t know for sure until he takes the field in the NFL—but it’s March, and as last season falls out of our rearview mirror and next season remains many months away, football fans are collectively starting to lose our sanity. We have nothing better to do than freak out over hand measurements. So let’s take a look back at the modern history of Hand Hysteria in the NFL, which began in 2014 with Teddy Bridgewater:
Bridgewater played QB in college with a glove on his throwing hand, so obviously he was hiding something. He measured in at 9.25 inches at the combine. But even though he cleared the 9-inch threshold, his hand size still became a big concern during the pre-draft process. Bridgewater was asked four questions about his hands during his combine press conference alone, and throughout the interview he insisted that hand size “doesn’t matter” and that “if it gets too cold, I’ll be able to put on a glove and throw.”
Nobody believed him. NFL.com listed “small hands” as the first weakness on his prospect page, and it became a defining explanation for why he fell below Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel in the draft.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Teddy Bridgewater: "His private workouts have also gone very shakily." Teams concerned about Teddy's hand size.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 11, 2014
Meanwhile, other prospects with similarly sized hands weren’t treated the same way. Jimmy Garoppolo, whose hands were an identical size to Bridgewater’s, was considered perfectly fine.
Haha. pic.twitter.com/pxjsw2Q3aN— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) May 7, 2014
Despite setting the all-time record for passing yards in an FBS game in 2014 with 734, Washington State’s Connor Halliday went undrafted. While he was a fringe prospect to begin with, his draft stock did tank as a result of his extremely small hands—smaller even than Pickett’s.
I can't remember a QB w/ 8 3/8 hands or smaller being drafted into the NFL. Connor Halliday's hands measure 8 3/8.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 16, 2015
I was taught QB hand size "minimum" is 9". Sean Mannion, Blake Sims right at that mark, Connor Halliday below (8 3/8")— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 20, 2015
“Scouts lauded the 6-foot-3, 204-pounder for his accuracy,” wrote the newspaper in Halliday’s hometown of Lewiston, Idaho, “but expressed doubts about his decision-making and hand size.” Outside of the NCAA records he set, there was no way for anybody to know whether he was good at throwing footballs.
Jared Goff never thought his hands were a problem until he arrived in Indianapolis. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life,” Goff said in his combine press conference. “I heard I have small hands yesterday, apparently.” As it turned out, everybody who told Goff his hands were adequate in the past was lying. They measured at 9 inches, and that became the biggest issue of Goff’s combine:
One point of curiosity for coaches/scouts entering combine week: how does Jared Goff measure? Smallest of top QBs, hands supposedly tiny.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 24, 2016
Since the Browns were expected to consider Goff with the no. 2 pick, head coach Hue Jackson was asked about the QB’s hands in a press conference—and admitted he didn’t think someone with tiny hands could prosper on the shores of Lake Erie. “[Hand size] matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there’s rain, there’s snow, and it’s different. I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations, and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback.”
After that fiasco, Goff went to work and miraculously grew his hands by an eighth of an inch in time for his pro day:
#NFL Network analysts discussing how Jared Goff's hand grew from 9 inches at Combine to 9 1/8 at Pro Day today. Teams like at least 9 1/8— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 18, 2016
Nobody was quite sure how Goff’s hands grew—maybe it was just inconsistent measuring. But another QB at the bottom of the board also wanted to demonstrate to teams that he was willing to put in the work to improve his hand size. The hands of Arkansas’ Brandon Allen measured 8.5 inches at the Senior Bowl—so he enlisted a masseuse to help work his hand muscles to increase their length. That eventually got his hands to 8.88 inches, but Allen wasn’t content to stop there. “I’m going to try to hit 9 or above at my pro day,” he said at the combine. He’s a grower, not a thrower.
Allen got picked in the sixth round and has hung around the NFL ever since; he was Joe Burrow’s backup this year. The two QBs probably knew they would work well together after their first tiny handshake. Meanwhile some still wonder whether Goff’s fumble issues have been caused by his small hands, but it seems more likely that it is just because he is bad at playing quarterback.
We went a few years without any hand controversies. All the QBs in 2017 and 2018 cleared 9 inches. Then in 2019, many assumed that 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray would be a small-handed disgrace. But Murray came into the combine knowing that he was going to have a good hand day:
There's confidence in the Kyler Murray camp that his hand size will come in at over 9.5 inches today.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 28, 2019
Instead it was Drew Lock of Mizzou who had notably small hands, at 9 inches. At least one NFL reporter believed that his hands were responsible for his slide out of the top 40 picks of the draft:
Word is that small hands (9 inches) behind absence of QB Drew Lock from first round of the draft. Used smaller ball at Missouri. Hand size of Kyler Murray, 9 1/2; Dwayne Haskins 9 5/8; Daniel Jones 9 3/4.— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) April 26, 2019
Lock is now Bridgewater’s backup—presumably because his hands are smaller.
Eventual no. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow had 9-inch hands, but nobody seemed particularly worried about it. “Burrow just had what is arguably the best season ever for a college quarterback,” wrote The Ringer’s Riley McAtee, “it would be ridiculous to worry about his hand size now.” Burrow even joked about it on Twitter during the combine:
Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts.— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) February 24, 2020
Less fortunate was Jake Fromm, who measured in at 8.88 inches. Fromm tried to positively spin his tiny hands …
Jake Fromm: These hands have taken me to 3 SEC Championships, a National Championship, a Rose Bowl and a couple of Sugar Bowls #UGA pic.twitter.com/aDyKwL5JXc— Cody Chaffins (@Cody_Fox5) February 25, 2020
But all that winning couldn’t get him taken within the first 150 picks of the draft. We have to assume that Fromm’s fumbling phalanges are why Joe Judge asked him to run a QB sneak on third-and-9 this year.
What did we learn from all this? These February freak-outs over hand size don’t really seem to matter too much from a draft stock or a pro performance perspective. Bridgewater outlasted many other QBs from his class; Burrow is thriving, and, uh … Goff was recently traded for a Super Bowl–winning quarterback! But still, Pickett probably should link up with Brandon Allen’s masseuse to show teams he means business. If he can slap on a quarter of an inch before his pro day, he can show teams that he cares—and get a little bit of power back into his tiny hands.