Does (Hand) Size Matter? Inside the NFL Draft’s Fear of Tiny-Handed QBs

It’s entirely possible that Pickett will fail to become a star quarterback; it’s also possible that he will lead his new team to glory. Neither scenario, in all likelihood, will have anything to do with the size of his hands. All of which begs the question: why on earth do we keep talking about this? The answer has much to do with NFL executives’ desire to bring some sense of predictability into the deeply uncertain, chaotic nature of trying to locate, among a group of men barely drinking age, the QB who can win their franchise a Super Bowl. But also because the NFL Draft is, in many ways, a thinly veiled, widely publicized manhood contest—a competition for the most important position in our most macho sport.

“It’s like the quarterback face thing: You want your quarterback to be the best-looking guy on the team,” says Matt Miller, a draft analyst for ESPN. He’s referring to a theory put forth by the sportscaster Colin Cowherd that the more handsome your quarterback is, the better he’ll play. Perhaps more than any other position in any sport, we have expectations of what a quarterback should be like: effortlessly cool, charismatic, handsome, with the type of skillet-hand big enough to juggle a couple of grapefruits or shake a baby. It’s a qualitative je ne sais quoi that no quantitative draft metric can adequately lasso—which doesn’t mean scouts won’t try.

EJ Manuel, whose 10 3/8” frisbees were the biggest among quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft, remembers GMs each having their own special mix of preferences. “Some coaches like guys because of how they sit in the chair. That sounds funny, but it’s true,” says the former Buffalo Bills quarterback. (He shook Kenny Pickett’s hands at last season’s ACC media days, but doesn’t remember them as particularly small.) “You have people that are making decisions over your career and they might not like a left-handed quarterback. They may like guys from the northeast, they may not like guys from the south. They might like guys that played in California in high school—it’s all types of stuff.”

If Pickett goes in the first round, as most suspect that he will, he’ll be only the second quarterback in NFL history with a sub-9” throwing hand to be drafted in the first round. The first was Michael Vick, who was unaware he had small hands until recently, when his brother made him aware of it. “He was talking about Kenny Pickett, and he said something about his hand size, like [that] he had the smallest hands since me,” Vick says, over the phone. “I’m like, ‘Really?’ I never heard that. [Then Philadelphia Eagles head coach] Andy Reid never came to me and said, ‘Let me see your hands, I heard you had a small hand.’ So, honestly, I think somebody just made that up.”

Though Vick says that it wasn’t his hands that made ball security a problem, so much as the way he carried it casually, he says he sometimes rubbed the grass or used powder to give his hands a little extra grip. “You got 280-pound guys swiping at the ball,” he says. “They want that ball—they want you, but they really want that ball out your hand, because that’s money. That ball equates to money, whether you run it in the endzone, pick it off, or are picking up a fumble. So hands are important at the end of the day.” As for his all-important hands, he doesn’t believe he measured under nine inches. “I remember being nine,” he says. “I remember walking out of that room [at the combine], saying, yeah, yeah, nine inches.” I tell him I see everyone reporting it as 8.5 inches. “You know what? I’m about to get a ruler,” he says, laughing.

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