Jared Goff, Cal’s wunderkind quarterback, was measured Thursday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound QB is a bit on the slight side, which has been a cause for concern among NFL scouts and coaches hoping Goff will becomes their durable, franchise quarterback for many years to come. We can now add hand size to the list of things they can start fretting about.
Goff’s hands measured exactly 9 inches, which is considered tiny for pro quarterbacks. According to CBS Sports, NFL teams look for a quarterback’s hands to be between 9 1/2 and 10 inches when measured diagonally from thumb to pinky. Anything smaller means, in theory, that a quarterback will have trouble holding on to the football and spinning it through the elements in games played in November and December.
But does hand size really matter that much, or is it just another physical attribute for teams to overanalyze? Tony Romo’s hands famously measured 8.88 inches, and he’s done alright for himself in the NFL. Alex Smith, a guy who’s been criticized for having small hands, actually measured 9 3/8 inches. Michael Vick, who could whip the ball 60 yards with what seemed like a flick of his wrist, had insanely small hands, just 8.55 inches. Teams scurried away from Teddy Bridgewater two years ago when his hand size was measured at 9 1/4 inches, but that didn’t stop the former Louisville product from thriving in the wintery conditions of Minnesota.
To be fair, let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Brett Favre sported hands measuring 10 3/8 inches during his time playing outdoors in Green Bay. A major reason why the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady, according to then-vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, was because of his huge hands. And Johnny Manziel’s big hands ( 9 7/8 inches) helped the diminutive quarterback overcome his size deficiencies in college.
Then again, Ryan Mallet, Brady’s long-time backup in New England, had huge hands, and we’ve all seen how that worked out for him. Hint: not well.
So, does a quarterback’s hand size really matter? We’d say it falls somewhere in the middle. According to an intriguing study done by Jonathan Bales of Rotoworld in 2014, hand size is actually a better indicator of quarterback success than height. Bales points out that many quarterbacks considered small by NFL standards—guys like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Brett Favre—have huge hands, which contributed greatly to their success in the NFL.
By the same token, quarterbacks with smaller hands can struggle, but superior mobility helps offset that. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick are good examples of guys with smaller hands who thrived on their ability to move outside the pocket. On the flip side, Ryan Tannehill, a taller, immobile quarterback with small hands, has struggled during his time in the NFL.
Bales concludes that teams would rather have a quarterback with large hands, unless he’s mobile, which allows some wiggle room. Immobile quarterbacks with small hands should give teams pause.
Still, it’s impossible to conclusively answer the question whether small hand size negatively affects QB performance. Are bigger hands better? Sure. But plenty of other factors come into play when determining what makes a quarterback great.