JARRETT BELL

Hand-size hysteria is no reason to downgrade top NFL draft QB prospect Kenny Pickett | Opinion

The NFL scouting combine can send teams into a frenzy over measurements, and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is under the microscope for his hand size.

Jarrett Bell
USA TODAY
  • Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is an expected first-round pick in the NFL draft
  • At the NFL scouting combine, however, Pickett is facing questions about his hand size.
  • Having 9-inch hands hasn't held back other QBs, including Joe Burow and Dan Marino.

INDIANAPOLIS — Upon shaking hands with Kenny Pickett as he made the media rounds on Wednesday, it must be revealed that there were no alarms. No one threw a penalty flag. The exchange might have even rated as a letdown. For all the buzz about Pickett’s hands at the NFL scouting combine, it was a handshake without incident.

Of course, we didn't learn exactly how big Pickett’s hands are until they measured Thursday. At 8 1/2 inches, his hands are smaller than those of any quarterback currently in the NFL.

But this is clearly a classic combine conversation. At the NFL’s annual meat market, more than 300 players are poked and prodded by doctors. They are tested, timed and taped as they talk to team decision-makers. Interrogation is part of the combine’s tradition, like some weird initiation. For Pickett, a Pittsburgh product regarded as potentially the top-rated prospect in a thin quarterback crop and a likely first-round pick, the size of his hands has become an outstretched source of pre-draft inspection.

“It’s come up a lot less in meetings than in the media,” Pickett told USA TODAY Sports, alluding to his lengthy lineup of interview sessions with individual teams. “The media asks about it a lot more than the teams do.”

Pickett didn’t have his hands measured while attending the Senior Bowl in January. The questions came with him to Lucas Oil Stadium, where in addition to the hand measurement he will participate in all of the on-field tests and passing drills. He said that in recent weeks, his combine prep training regimen has included hand-stretching exercises, which tells me that a quarterback who plays with gloves on his hands has at least some curiosity about how his hands measure up.

“Whatever it measures, it measures,” Pickett, 23, said of Thursday’s moment of truth, when the hands are measured from the tip of the thumb and across the outstretched hand to the tip of the pinky finger. “I’m sure that won’t be the end of it, but that’ll be the last measurement I’m sure I’ll take of it.”

NFL DRAFT:Nine prospects who have something to prove at scouting combine

FRANCHISE TAG RECOMMENDATIONS:What all 32 teams should do in 2022

Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up before the ACC championship game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Bank of America Stadium.

What will it matter if Pickett’s hands measure at exactly 9 inches? Slightly more or less than 9 inches?

“With any measurable, any statistic, it’s all part of the evaluation,” said Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, on the lookout for the potential successor to quarterback Matt Ryan. “But there’s never going to be one thing that makes a decision.”

Fontenot acknowledged that there are thresholds for all of the measurables for every position.

“But all that does is make that particular player or whatever we’re talking about, it can make them an exception in a category,” Fontenot said. “But it’s never going to make a decision.”

While several star quarterbacks in recent years had hand measurements beyond 10 inches – Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Brett Favre among them – Joe Burrow just led the Cincinnati Bengals to an AFC title and Super Bowl 56 berth with hands measured at 9 inches. Burrow’s measurement was nearly 1 1/2 inches smaller than legendary flop Tim Tebow. No, hand measurements don’t make the quarterback. 

It’s also notable that Tom Brady can slide any of his record seven Super Bowl rings on hands that measured at 9.38 inches. 

Patrick Mahomes? The hands of the NFL’s most dynamic quarterback checked in at 9 1/4 inches before the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2017.

“That always comes up,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said this week. “I try to look at whether he can throw the ball or not. Patrick did a pretty good job with it. So, I didn’t really worry about all of that. I imagine that can make a difference if they are too small. I think there’s been some pretty good quarterbacks with smaller hands.”

And some great ones. Like Dan Marino. 

I bumped into the Hall of Famer (and Pitt legend) at a hotel sandwich shop on Wednesday. I asked Marino if he remembered how his hands measured in 1983, when he was part of the greatest quarterback class in NFL draft history. Marino showed me his hands, palms up. He said they measured at 9 inches.

No, Marino hardly has any reservations about the size of Pickett’s hands.

“It’s all about how you throw it,” Marino told USA TODAY Sports.

Marino called Pickett “a great kid,” with a certain degree of toughness. He likes his throwing style.

Then Marino added, “He broke my records, so…”

Pickett, who measures in at 6-3 and 220 pounds, came back for a fifth season at Pitt in 2021 and passed for 4,319 yards. He broke Marino’s single-season school record by throwing for 42 touchdowns and topped the legend’s career TD mark by finishing with 81 scoring strikes.

“There’s a lot to like about him,” former NFL quarterback Chris Simms (10 1/2-inch hands), now an analyst for NBC Sports, told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s got good size. He’s a very good athlete. He has a natural motion.”

Although Simms maintained that he hasn’t done a “deep dive” yet in evaluating the quarterback class, he’s seen enough of Pickett to conclude that the potential is there for him to develop as a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.

Any reservations? Simms said, “I don’t love the glove on his hand.”

Ah, the hands, the grip bolstered by gloves. Time will tell whether the size proves to be a hindrance or afterthought as he proceeds with the looming NFL opportunity. At the moment, Pickett approached the combine with a few other things to prove beyond the size of his hands. It was all about performance.

“Consistency and verifying the tape,” Pickett said, asked about his combine objectives. “Show mobility in all the drills and be an accurate passer. Throw on time. Show some other things when I’m throwing. Just a couple things.”

And the hand sizing? On some level, you’d think that this size business is annoying.

“Nah,” Pickett insisted. “I can’t control it. People are going to say what they’re going to say. So, I just take it in stride. It is what it is.”

Pickett knows. The hand measurement will hardly define him.

“The videotape kind of speaks for itself,” he said. “It’s been a long (college) career. That’s my resume.”

In other words, what Pickett does with those hands is what matters most.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.