The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Joe Burrow, contemplated retiring from football before he had ever played a down in the league. The reason? His hands are too small.
As humorous and ridiculous as it may sound, the NFL measures the hands of all its prospective quarterbacks. The thinking goes like this – the bigger a quarterback prospect’s hands; the better (for a number of reasons most related to ball control).
The problem with that thinking is simple. It’s a myth.
On the day of arrival at the annual NFL Combine, quarterbacks are put through a series of physical tests, some of those involving measurements. Height and weight are recorded and, for quarterbacks, a measurement of the throwing hand is taken.
Hands are measured from the tip of the thumb, across the palm, and to the end of the pinky. At least that is how it’s done at the combine. There is no universal method for measuring hands, which might be one of the problems. Hand size is also measured at pro day workouts and at events like the Senior Bowl. The numbers can vary wildly.
The Strange Case of Brandon “Small Hands” Allen
Brandon Allen was a three-year starter at Arkansas. He was considered one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks and proved it in his senior year. He threw for a school record six touchdown passes in a 53-52 win over Ole Miss. Two weeks later, he broke that record with seven scoring tosses against Mississippi State.
Allen was projected to be a late-round NFL draft pick in 2016. He thought his career might be dead before it started once he learned that his 8.5-inch hand measurement would scare away potential NFL suitors. NFL teams like quarterbacks with bigger hands, Allen was told.
The hands didn’t scare the Jacksonville Jaguars away. They drafted the former Razorback in the sixth round. He spent 2016 with Jacksonville and 2017 and 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams. Signed by the Denver Broncos in 2019, Allen went 1-2 in his three starts for the Broncos.
Even with his tiny hands, Allen managed 68.3 QB rating, three touchdown passes, and exactly zero fumbles. That’s right. Despite his so-called “small” hands, Allen has not recorded an NFL fumble.
Brett Favre’s Man Hands
In 1991, the Atlanta Falcons took a chance on a quarterback from Southern Mississippi and selected him in the second round of that year’s draft. A year later, the Falcons traded him to Green Bay where he became a three-time NFL MVP. It must have been the hands.
Brett Favre’s hands measured 10⅜ inches, seemingly gigantic in the world of hand size. While he did win three MVPs and lead the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, Favre and his big hands also set an NFL record for fumbles by a quarterback. Favre fumbled 166 times, or 0.55 times per game, during his career. Maybe big hands don’t have anything to do with ball control.
“Small” Hands & No. 1 Draft Picks
With the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams selected California quarterback Jared Goff. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Goff had all the tools to become an outstanding NFL quarterback. Except one.
At the 2016 NFL Combine, Goff’s hand size checked in at a measly nine inches. How could a team draft a player with such “small” hands? Goff would lead the Rams to a Super Bowl in just his second season in the league.
A year later, the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to the No. 10 slot in the draft to take a quarterback out of Texas Tech. The selection, of course, was last year’s Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. Prior to the draft, one article about Mahomes and his draft chances read: “Will Patrick Mahomes’ Small Hands Tank His NFL Draft Stock?”
Mahomes hand size measured 9¼ inches at the 2017 combine. In his first full year as an NFL starter, Mahomes became just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards and 50-plus touchdowns in the same season. Peyton Manning, whose hands measure a shade over 10 inches, is the other.
In 2019, the Arizona Cardinals appeared ready to take Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray with the first pick in the draft. There was concern about his height, which was measured at 5-feet-10⅛-inches at the NFL combine. The bigger concern was his hand size – 9½ inches.
Murray had the smallest hands of any quarterback taken in the first round that year. He also had the lowest fumble rate (0.31) and highest QB rating (55.7). Oh, and he won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Before Allen was drafted by Jacksonville, he continued his pre-draft preparation. Part of it included receiving deep tissue massages to relax. The massages also elongated the connective tissue in his right hand.
After measuring 8½ inches at the Senior Bowl, Allen’s right hand measured a whopping 8⅞ inches. That is actually the same measurement as former Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. He had a fairly successful career. Romo also only lost 29 total fumbles in his 14-year NFL career.
Maybe size doesn’t matter.