While practical athleticism matters more for quarterbacks nowadays, there’s still no true significance when it comes to valuing testing numbers at the scouting combine for that position. You could make arguments for the 40-yard dash, the 3-cone, and the short shuttle, but they don’t separate quarterback prospects like they do for other positions.
Instead, everyone cares about two things: height and hand size. Last year, the NFL world went wild in reacting to eventual first-overall selection Kyler Murray’s measured height of 5’10”.
This year, it’s Joe Burrow’s 9” hands that are getting the overreaction treatment.
Here’s the thing: hand size for quarterbacks is basically like any other body measurement for other positions. Running backs and receivers get judged by their hand sizes and overall size in general. Offensive lineman’s arm length are often put under the microscope. Arm length for edge defender’s is a big one, too.
Why do they matter? It gives teams a full physical profile of each player. Many teams will have their own personal thresholds for each individual measurement. Quarterback hand size is obviously one that gets a lot of press and how much it matters may depend on which team you ask. If you asked the Bengals’ Duke Tobin, he’d tell you it doesn’t matter at all.
Some teams may have different preferences, there’s a threshold that objectively has weight behind it.
James Cobern specializes in a unique brand of football analytics, and all of his evaluations are based on specific historical significances. Every facet of evaluating size, production and athleticism have their own minimum thresholds for achieving careers with 64+ starts, multiple Pro Bowls, and multiple All-Pro honors. For example, he found that 92% of running backs who have started at least 64 games since the 1999 draft class have had an arm length of at least 31”.
And that’s the thing about minimum thresholds; you don’t get bonus points for being bigger than everyone else, you just have to be big enough. For more information about his process, I’d recommend diving into his YouTube channel, which can be found here.
When it comes to looking at projecting quarterback success by their hand size, this is what Cobern found (per his 2019 NFL Draft guide).
94% of Multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl QBs since the 1998 NFL Draft Class had at least 9-Inch Hand Size
Guess who has a 9” hand size?
We don’t even have to mention that Ryan Tannehill (9”), Jared Goff (9”), Case Keenum (9.125”), Derek Carr (9.125”), and Colin Kaepernick (9.125”) have all been able to carve out some level of professional success with similar hand sizes. Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo just faced off in Super Bowl LIV with their 9.25” hands three weeks ago.
Is it completely preferable? No. Having big hands theoretically equates to being able to hold onto the ball easier. But that is the kind of subjective black-and-white thinking that clouds the judgement of many NFL decision-makers and leads to poor draft selections.
Something as trivial as hand size is only a problem if it has already shown to be a problem.
Take Justin Herbert for example. The former Oregon passer fumbled the ball 26 times in 43 career starts, and he had a great offensive line in front of him almost all of the time. Should people be worried about that glaring red flag even when he officially has 10” hands?
Not only did Burrow only fumble five times in his 28 starts at LSU, one of his best traits is his innate awareness to keep two hands on the ball when maneuvering around the pocket and escaping it entirely. It’s much harder for pass rushers to achieve strip sacks when this is the case.
In regards to throwing the ball, some may point to common struggles when throwing in the cold, but it’s different for everyone. When asked about it, former NFL quarterback Zac Robinson his 9” hands impacted him the most when playing in humid conditions. As PFF’s Mike Renner elegantly puts it, this clearly didn’t affect Burrow when playing in Baton Rogue.
Re: Joe Burrow’s 9” hands— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 24, 2020
Former Bengal and now Rams QB coach Zac Robinson also had 9” hands. He told me that it particularly gave him trouble in high humidity. Burrow lit up defenses with no problem in a gd bayou I’m not too worried about him in Cincy
Again, it’s only a problem if it’s previously been shown to be a problem. If Burrow experienced alarming fumble rates or if the ball would flutter out of his hands too often for no reason, his hand size would be a potential long-term concern. Thankfully, neither of these things were issues, so his hand size shouldn’t be considered one either.
Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts.— Joey Burrow (@Joe_Burrow10) February 24, 2020