clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Great QB Hand debate: Is it really a factor?

Brandon Allen garnered attention at the NFL Combine, do the dimensions of a quarterbacks hands really matter, or is it just nonsense?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Allen was the center of some media attention going into the NFL Draft Combine. At the Senior Bowl his hands were measured at about a half inch less than at the combine. Several articles have popped up documenting his massage therapy, and sparking the debate as to whether it really matters. (Check some out here, and here) At the quarterback position I think it does, and apparently so does he or he would have just ignored it completely.(Or maybe it was all a big PR stunt to gain more attention?)

Here is why it seems to matter and why teams put so much value on that measurement for a QB.

One of the biggest ideas behind having a Qb with larger hands that can better grip the football comes from Bret Favre and playing in colder weather environments. Really this is just a focus on the wrong aspect. The fact that the NFL Football is a different size and shape than a college football probably plays a bigger role.

Here is the difference:

Level weight long circumference Long axis short circumference inflation link to rule book
HS 14-15 oz 27 3/4'' to 28 1/2' 10 7/8" to 11 7/16" 20 3/4" to 21 1/4" 12.5-13.5
NCAA 14-15 oz 27 3/4'' to 28 1/2' 10 7/8" to 11 7/16" 20 3/4" to 21 1/4" 12.5-13.5
NFL 14-15 oz 28" to 28 1/2" 11" to 11 1/4" 21" to 21 1/4" 12.5-13.5
CFL 14-15 oz 27 3/4" to 28 1/4" 11" to 11 1/4" 20 7/8" to 21 1/8" 12.5-13.5

So the first place to start in looking at the difference between these footballs is to understand that in HS and College, teams can use any type of football that meets the ranges listed. Nike, Wilson, Adidas, Rawlings, Spaulding, Baden and Under Armour all make game footballs.

The NFL require that "The Ball must be a "Wilson," hand selected, bearing the signature of the Commissioner of the League, Roger Goodell." Why that is, who knows? This, along with all the other uniform fines for wearing socks or sleeves the wrong way, and fines for the wrong brand other than the official NFL sponsor. Some have pointed out the fact that the NFL has nine pages in the rule book on what a player can wear before, during and after a game. Pretty strange.

College Football Game Ball Diagram:

Football Diagram

The fact that the football can be in that wide range can make quite a bit of a difference. The manufacturers do not list the exact size of the footballs at any level, and I have a feeling each coach puts in a specific order. Some teams at the College level likely use a ball on the lower end of the long axis and short circumference allowing a quarterback with a smaller hand size to easier grip the ball. So does the fact that the NFL has a more stringent process make it more difficult for players with smaller hands?

Everyone grips and throws the football in a slightly different way, and when a guy has been using a football for years that is smaller, there can be a difference in timing. In the NFL the margin for error, and those throwing windows are quite a bit narrower, and any problems with a grip or spiral can be magnified.

Blame Kliff Kingsbury

His unusually tiny, almost cartoon small hands are the reason so many GMs have become cautious. There is no data on exactly how small Kingsbury's hands are, he did not measure at the 2003 Combine so we can really only speculate.

Scott Pioli described a "bad decision" he contributed to during his time in New England by selecting former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury back in 2003. Kingsbury had tremendous college production, but he also had the smallest hands among quarterbacks at the combine. ESPN Insider: Field Yates

"We asked him to come to New England in inclement weather and try to throw the football and control the football; where you have someone like Tom Brady, who has an enormous hand," he recalled.

"You look at the pictures of Tommy holding a football, part of his accuracy is based on his hand size," he explained. "So things like that, in terms of measurements, they have value." Field Yates ESPN

The New England Patriots used a 6th round pick on Kingsbury and never really got any return on that investment.

How much does all this really matter? Truthfully there is no guarantee either way whether a QB pick with pan out or bust. NFL GMs take multi-million dollar gambles every year in the draft, and many of the biggest failures can not be traced to any one specific physical attribute. If a guy like Brandon Allen can get into a system and learn it quickly while perfecting his skills (mobility, reading a defense, strong arm) then he has a shot to make it in the NFL.

Brandon Allen will get that opportunity in a camp, and we will see whether the physical numbers outweigh the mental or un-measurable like overcoming adversity.