Why a quarterback’s hand size matters to the NFL
It’s Combine week, and hundreds of NFL evaluators will be watching closely to get a better gauge on everything. Pretty much every player in Indy has gone to various Combine training places to improve on, among other things: their 40s, their shuttle times, their vertical jumps, the amount of times they can bench press 225 pounds and how well they can present their football savvy in a classroom setting.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has worked diligently on all those things at a camp in South Florida. In addition, he’s also worked on something else — trying to increase his hand size. Well, more specifically, his hand measurement.
The size of a quarterback’s hand has gained increased attention in the past few years. For my book "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” I spoke with Tom Rossley, who was the Green Bay Packers’ former offensive coordinator and later recruited Johnny Manziel to Texas A&M when he was the Aggies’ quarterbacks coach. Rossley said one of the first things they looked at when they evaluated quarterbacks in Green Bay was how big their hands were, "because of how Brett (Favre) was and how well he could play in cold weather,” Rossley said. “That’s such a key with handling the ball, controlling the ball, and with the snap coming out. The size of a quarterback’s hands is even more important than his height."
Favre’s hands were measured by the NFL years ago (from thumb tip to pinkie tip) at 10 3⁄8 inches. For comparison’s sake, Tony Romo’s hand was measured at 8.88 inches. Anything bigger than 9 1⁄2 is considered large for an NFL QB prospect.
At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month, Allen’s hands were measured at 8 1/2 inches — the smallest of all the QBs there.
"It’s obviously something I can’t control,” Allen said, before adding that as part of his draft training process, the masseuse who helps the athletes with recovery has also been working twice a week on stretching out the QB’s hands “to maybe get another 1/2 inch or 1/4 inch here or there because the muscles in my hands were really tight and this can loosen them up. I have long fingers.
“It’s worth a shot."
While many may figure the biggest issue with small hands manifests itself in fumbling, the coaches and personnel people FOX Sports spoke with say it’s really more about being able to grip and throw the ball in inclement weather.
Allen, Arkansas’ career touchdown passes leader with 64, actually had decent fumble numbers in college. In 2015, he had four fumbles and lost one. For comparison sake, that’s the exact same numbers that Cal’s Jared Goff had. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who played in the same division as Allen and had some of the biggest hands at the Senior Bowl at 9 7/8, fumbled nine times and lost four in 2015.
Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, who has some of the biggest hands for a QB that NFL personnel people have measured in years — 10 7/8 inches — fumbled nine times in his final college season, losing three of them. Check the NFL totals on the guys who fumble the most and it’s hard to draw much of a parallel to hand size. Drew Brees, who has very big mitts, fumbles at almost the same rate as Tony Romo. Russell Wilson, another guy with very big hands (10 1/4), has fumbled at a much higher rate than Alex Smith (9 3/8 inches) has over the past three seasons.
Two years ago one of the hottest topics in the run-up to the NFL Draft was the supposed dismal performance Teddy Bridgewater had at his pro day. The former Louisville star had opted not to wear a glove on his throwing hand even though he wears one when he plays. That triggered even more focus on Bridgewater’s hands, which were measured at 9 1/4 inches, the smallest of any of the top QB prospects who were coming out for the draft that year. At the time ESPN researched that since 2008 there had been 39 quarterbacks who had been measured with a hand size of 9 1/4 or smaller; less than one-fifth of them had even gone on to start half a season in the NFL and none had made a Pro Bowl.
Bridgewater, who completed 68 percent of his passes and had a 14-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on third downs at Louisville, lasted until the 32nd pick of the first round. The Vikings drafted Bridgewater, who won Rookie of the Year honors and was selected to the Pro Bowl in his second season.
Despite the fact that he was drafted by a team that plays a lot in cold weather, Bridgewater’s small hands haven’t seemed to be an issue. In fact, according to the Star Tribune, in the two coldest games at TCF Bank Stadium, which also both rank among the 10 coldest in franchise history, the Vikings defeated Carolina 31-13 in 2014 when the game-time temperature was 12 degrees and beat the Giants 49-17 in 2015 when the game-time temperature was 13 degrees. In those two games, Bridgewater was a combined 30-for-46 (65.2 percent) with three TDs and no interceptions while the two opposing QBs, Cam Newton and Eli Manning, were a combined 33 for 64 (51.5 percent) with a TD and four INTs.
Tony Romo’s become the poster child for the small-hands QB. The Wisconsin native played in college at Eastern Illinois, but he has struggled, going 1-3 as a starting NFL QB in games played at 32 degrees or colder, according to ESPN Stats and Info data. Romo’s individual stats, however, don’t look that bad: He’s completed 60 percent of his passes with an 8-4 TD-INT ratio in those games.
Brandon Allen didn’t play in anything close to an Ice Bowl in college. He did play well though in two games that were in less than ideal weather. Against Miss. State when the temperature was in the mid-30s, he went 30-of-43 for 406 yards, throwing seven TDs and zero picks in a 51-50 loss. The other game was vs. Mizzou in sleeting rain, and he went 11-of-17 for 102 yards without a TD pass and one INT in a 28-3 Razorbacks win.
Former NFL GM Phil Savage is both the Alabama Crimson Tide radio color analyst and the Senior Bowl executive director. He’s seen plenty of Allen and is impressed by how much the 6-2, 220-pounder has improved over the past three seasons. In 2015, Allen actually led the country in QBR rating at 87.8 and was tops in the SEC in passer rating at 166.48 despite playing a chunk of the season without three of the Razorbacks’ top four receivers.
Savage said Allen’s hand size is “problematic for the teams that play in (cold weather) conditions,” Savage said. "However, I’ve been a Brandon Allen fan. He did some pro-style-like things at Arkansas with play-action passing. He came through for them in his senior year, when they won close games. I thought he had some solid practices and had a really good game, going 7-for-10 (in the Senior Bowl). I think he fits a team that runs the traditional West Coast offense because he’s got quick feet. He’s got a quick arm and I think Brandon has quick eyes as well.
“Like I tell players all the time, you don’t have to convince 32 teams. All you have to do is convince one team, and I think he can do that.”
Allen, the son of a former Arkansas defensive coordinator Bobby Allen, who has been on the Razorbacks coaching staff for almost two decades, shrugs his shoulders at this hand size talk.
"I didn’t even know it was even a thing till this year,” he said, pointing out that he felt like he had more zip on his passes than other guys at the Senior Bowl.
Allen didn’t realize how big or small his hands were till he measured them before the season while he was at a youth football camp.
“I’ve never dropped a ball or never had fumbling problems. I don’t think it’s really a factor.”
Like most things you’ll hear in Indy, hand size matters because, well, everything matters. Kinda. How much it matters depends on whom you ask.
UPDATE from INDY:
#Arkansas QB Brandon Allen whose hand was measured at 8 1/2 at Senior Bowl was now measured at 8 7/8 inches at combine thx to massage work.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) February 25, 2016
"The therapist thinks we can get it to nine-plus," Allen said at the Combine on Thursday. "That’s what I’m shooting for by pro day. I’m going to keep on doing it."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.