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You can’t have ‘tiny Burger King hands’ if you want to be an NFL quarterback

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The size of a quarterback's hands became THE issue du jour at the combine Thursday. Why are NFL execs so obsessed with the size of a man's hands?

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- The most controversial subject at the NFL Combine on Thursday? Hand size.

It's not a new thing. The size of prospect's hands, especially quarterbacks, has been something that gets a lot of attention every year. But a day after it was reported that California quarterback Jared Goff would be revealed to have "supposedly tiny" hands (they actually measured out at nine inches, which is considered to be on the small side, but not necessarily "tiny"), debates raged in Indy about whether or not that would be a big deal in the NFL and whether or not it's even something teams can measure accurately.

The opinions varied. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman posited that "a guy could have tiny Burger King hands ... (but) €”if he doesn't fumble, who cares?"

And, sure, he's got a point there. Production and performance are obviously more important, and if there's a clear ability on the player's part to hold on to the ball and not fumble, why does it matter? But, Speilman's comment misses the real point of the hand-size debate, which is that bigger hands enable quarterbacks to throw the ball better in colder and wetter conditions.

It's not about fumbles. Well, it is, but that's not the main thing. It's about the ability to spin the football and deliver it with accuracy even when the weather isn't cooperating. Bigger hands allow you to do this more effectively. And guess what: the NFL playoffs take place in the dead of winter, so this is a common issue.

Browns head coach Hue Jackson was pretty adamant on Wednesday when asked whether or not hand size for quarterbacks matters. "Oh, yes, it does. It does," he said. "It matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there's rain, there's snow, and it's different. I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we'll look for a guy that fits what we're looking for in a quarterback, and is hand size important? Yes it is."

John Elway, himself a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback who disclosed that he has 10 1/8-inch hands, agreed that "hand size is important."

Elway noted that "As a player you never look at it, as a GM you always do."

Chip Kelly agreed. Hand size is "huge," he said. "You better have big hands. You better have a big paw to manipulate the football."

As former Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley told Bruce Feldman, hand size was a key attribute that they evaluated before acquiring Brett Favre.

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."

The idea that a quarterback's hand size is more important than his height is something that Jonathan Bales explored and found that "there's a much stronger correlation between hand size and both approximate value and completion rate than there is between height and those stats."

One obvious example about this is Russell Wilson, who lacks in the height department but has notoriously big hands for a person his size. It's been something Wilson consistently cites when asked about why he has had so much success despite standing just over 5'10.

How to measure it

Most coaches and GMs who were asked about it Thursday agreed that hand size is, in fact, an important variable. The only issue is that measuring hand size can vary pretty wildly so you kind of have to take those numbers being spit out in Indianapolis with a giant grain of salt.

Duke Tobin, Bengals director of player personnel, explained.

"There are some measurements that I think are accurate and there are some measurements that sometimes aren't," he said, when asked if he has a hand size preference for his players. "It's amazing the change in hand size from one event to another."

(Example)

Sharpe is not a quarterback, but hand size is important for receivers as well. It's something to keep in mind.

"The way it's measured is a little odd," said Tobin, gesturing to the crowd with an example of an outstretched hand. "That's an eight-inch hand," then changing his style slightly, stretching it further, "and that's a 10-inch hand."

"If you can't extend your thumb or pinky," he explained, "you end up with a small hand -- but you might not have a small hand. It's a little bit useless of a measurement."

"When you shake a guys hand you know whether he's got a big hand or not," said Tobin. "We don't have minimums and maximums for guys."

So, as with many of the combine exercises, the hand measurement station can be a little superficial, where players can specifically train for the ability to manipulate the metric. It's gotten to the point where prospects are hiring masseuses for their hands, with the goal of stretching out the hand-muscles in order to get a better number. Quarterbacks legitimately stand to lose a lot of money with a bad hand measurement.

A bigger hand is generally considered better, and that seems to be a pretty widely held truth, particularly at the quarterback position. The problem with putting too much stock into guys who fall in that middle-range of hand size is that there is some error that you have to factor in. Then, where is the true cutoff? Is it nine inches flat? What if the player really has 9 1/4-inch hands? Then you've taken someone off your board for no reason?

Coaches and personnel execs must consider all the variables, and at the end of the day, it's probably not worth splitting hairs over an eighth of an inch. Very big is good. Very small is bad. But if you're somewhere in between? There's definitely a giant gray area.