At the NFL Scouting Combine, prospective players are scrutinized from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes. The process is even more intense when it comes to quarterbacks, and that means that nothing is overlooked — right down to the size of their hands.
Makes sense, right? Have you ever tried to grip a football? There are legendary stories about quarterbacks such as Brett Favre and Russell Wilson whose massive mitts have made scouts salivate. That’s why officials at the combine Thursday in Indianapolis will ask Kyler Murray and others to splay their fingers, measuring the span from thumb to pinkie. Admittedly, it seems somewhat absurd, but there was some relief when the hands of Murray, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy winner, measured 9½ inches.
“As a player, you never look at it,” John Elway, the Denver Broncos’ Hall of Fame quarterback who is now the team’s general manager and president of football operations, said in 2016. “As a GM, you always do.”
Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman was a little more on the fence, saying that “a guy could have tiny Burger King hands . . . [but] if he doesn’t fumble, who cares?”
Murray’s result Thursday was typical among quarterbacks expected to go high in the NFL draft, with Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins’s hands measuring 9⅝ inches. North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley’s hands measured 9½, West Virginia’s Will Grier’s hands came in at 9⅜; and Duke’s Daniel Jones’s are 9¾. Missouri’s Drew Lock came in at 9 inches.
Sports Illustrated noted that before the 2014 draft, writer Colby Rogers attempted to quantify the impact of hand size. Using measurements from the combine and football stats (starts, touchdown passes and interceptions), he found that the best size isn’t either large or small. It’s average. The group with hands between 9¼ and 9¾ inches outperformed players outside that range.
Tell that to a prospect trying to find an edge, looking for any way to improve. And while it may seem as if hand size is something predetermined, there might actually be something players can do to increase their hand size.
In 2016, future Rams backup quarterback Brandon Allen made headlines when he reportedly increased the size of his hand by half an inch during the pre-draft process.
Allen’s secret? He worked with George Kousaleos of the Florida-based CORE Institute and XPE Sports. Kousaleos has worked with Olympic teams and NFL prospects, employing deep massage and exercises to relax the myofascia — the body’s connective tissue — and minimize the possibility of injuries while increasing body awareness and improving range of motion and flexibility.
The goal is to change tissue “from something that’s firm to something that’s more malleable,” he said in a phone interview this week, calling connective tissue “key to this whole thing.”
Kousaleos met Allen the first year he worked at XPE and heard Allen “complaining to another athlete that his hand size was too small compared to NFL standards. . . . There should be anywhere from 9½ to 10 inches between your thumb and the end of your pinkie.
“I knew that we had done work with others who had had more crippling injuries or had severe arthritis or severe joint issues, [people] that we had to work with in a dedicated way, on just one hand or foot or joint to increase range of motion,” Kousaleos said. “So I thought it was hopeful. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I told Brandon that if he would let me do specific sessions on that right hand twice a week for five weeks that it should improve his ability to open his hand wider.”
Allen also had been a baseball pitcher, accustomed to gripping a smaller ball, and he “probably spent more time throwing a baseball over the course of his life,” Kousaleos said. “I saw it as an overuse issue and knew that we could get in there and work it in a deliberate way. I also told him that he would not like me during the sessions, that he would probably appreciate it more afterward than while it was happening. But he was a trouper.”
Kousaleos typically prefers to focus on the entire body, not just hands, and while a couch potato isn’t likely to magically morph into a sports superstar, any tiny edge for an NFL prospect can correlate to a bigger contract.
Kousaleos also uses the “p” word — pliability — that 41-year-old New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has emphasized with his TB12 program. Yoga and Pilates are part of Kousaleos’ techniques, with proper breathing emphasized during the stretching phase. And he has found that more and more athletes are buying into the idea of improving and extending their careers with such training methods. Kousaleos, for example, works twice a week with Jameis Winston, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback.
Kousaleos also has worked with Florida State football players for eight years, addressing specific areas such as ankles and range of motion issues. His treatment, he said, includes “slow, deeper, non-gliding work,” with less lubricant than massage therapy.
“With a lot of these athletes, believe it or not, it’s ankles. Their ankles have been taped in a fixed way every practice and every way for years, and they’ve actually lost mobility in their ankles,” he said. “So one of the jobs I have with XPE is to try to increase the mobility of hips, ankles and shoulders — all considered mobility joints, not stability joints. Also improving the position of the pelvis and the chest, even the length of the spine and neck. Most of our athletes increase in height anywhere from a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch.”
His success with Allen has increased the company’s visibility, with 65 athletes heading to Florida this winter to train for the combine.
“For these athletes,” he said, “a slightly higher level can make all the difference in the world.”
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