2020 NFL Combine Diary Part I: Joe Burrow’s Hands

The annual NFL Combine kicks off this week. For those completely oblivious and yet still reading this very much niche blog, the combine is a post-season but pre-draft event where most draftable players vying for a spot in the NFL are measured, weighed, timed, and put through every speed test imaginable in an effort to quantify their legitimacy as an NFL prospect.  There are many arguments in terms of how much weight to put on combine performance. I personally think it should be viewed on a macro level i.e “that guy is 6’5 and ran a 4.8 as a WR, so he’s way too fucking slow but was huge for the college game” as opposed to nitpicking details on a micro level. For the most part that seems to net out. Choose for yourself.

As of Monday night QBs, WRs, and TEs had their height measured and they had weighed in, which makes sense as every physical for a job that requires a physical generally takes such measurements into account. The peculiarity of the NFL Combine’s first assessment of their players, however, lies in the additional measurement that is taken: hand size. Every player’s hand is measured, from pinkie tip, across the palm, to thumb tip, to get a sense of the true size of their paw. So I guess the question you may be asking, or possibly, having figured out the question, pondering the validity of the inquiry itself, is: why does it fucking matter?

I’m going to focus on offense as this is more an offensive-minded measurement, at least from what I’ve gathered over the years. All in all it has to do with ball security.

For WRs and anyone else who may be asked to catch the football, the bigger your hands the easier you are theoretically able to secure the ball. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Particularly in some of the harsher conditions an NFL player might play in, having dinner plate-esque mitts you can envelop the ball in certainly seems to be an advantage.

For QBs, it is a little different and a little harder to decipher just how much hand size matters. QBs have, in theory, two reasons to worry about hand-size. One is the aforementioned weather. The bigger the hand, the more control over the football and the easier you’re able to sling it in rain, wind, and snow. Ok, maybe? I guess? I mean if your hand is big enough to grip and control a football, it’s big enough, right?

The second reason makes sense until it kind of doesn’t. This is where teams are concerned that if your hand is too small, the easier it will be to strip the ball or otherwise dislodge it when the QB has it, whether that causes a fumble, a pop up INT, or a regular incomplete pass. Again, the bigger the hand, the more control over the ball they assert overall, right? I can honestly say I think this all goes back to Daunte Culpepper. He was singled out as fumble-prone and as also having abnormally small hands for a guy his size. So that had to be it right? Welllll Culpepper is also the 52nd most sacked QB of all time, having been dropped for a loss 298 times over 10 seasons*. To put that in perspective, Rich Gannon who ranks one spot above Culpepper at 51st, was dropped 4 more times, having been sacked 302 times, but over a much lengthier 17 seasons. Basically, Culpepper wasn’t the most aware QB of all time, if we are going to use Madden terminology. And with the level today’s pass rushers are playing at, if you don’t know whats coming and they get a clear shot, that ball is coming loose.

So this brings us to Joe Burrow, the record-setting LSU QB coming off a Heisman Trophy and National Title win and who is arguably the best QB prospect in this draft. His hand size, at 6’3 221 lbs, was measured at 9″. Not small for an average human, but third smallest of the 17 QBs measured. For comparison, fellow top QB prospects Justin Hebert (6’6 236 lbs) and Tua Tagavailoa (6′ 217 lbs) both had 10″ hands and last years top pick and QB prospect, Kyler Murray (5’10 207 lbs) came in with 9 1/2″ hands. So needless to say eyebrows were raised and questions were asked, in both whispers and shouts, regarding Burrow’s hands.

Joseph Lee Burrow, of the The Plains, Ohio, was having none of it.

He immediately dropped this A-bomb of a tweet:

This is an incredible tweet because it says so much with so few words. He is absolutely ethering the very much capital-J NFL media and attempting to discredit the fact that they have a fucking clue how to judge a QB prospect. He’s saying  “I’m going number 1 or 2 (Ohio State DE Chase Young being the variable) no matter how many articles you write and there ain’t shit you can do about it”. He’s showing the kind of moxie you’d want from a QB1. Like a humorous, not child-laden Philip Rivers, if you will.

The other unintended consequence of that tweet is that people are now talking about Burrow’s response more than the measurement itself, which might make sense. He showed all through high school and college he can toss the rock. The NFL ball is only slightly difference in size. Get over it.

I’ll check back in after some more folks are weighed-in, measured, and timed. Hopefully there will be some drama so I have something to write about.

-Joey B.

*Counting from when he was drafted, Culepper appeared in 11 seasons but did not record stats in his rookie season, 1999.

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