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Kenny Pickett measured with unusually small hand size at NFL draft combine

Kenny Pickett wore two gloves in a 2021 season that saw him throw for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
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Kenny Pickett could only keep the subject at arm’s length for so long. After declining to have his throwing hand measured at last month’s Senior Bowl, Pickett’s moment of truth arrived Thursday at the NFL combine.

The Pittsburgh star officially checked in at 8½ inches, giving him an unusually small hand size for an NFL quarterback prospect.

In fact, according to ESPN, no quarterback in the league has such small hands. Of the 31 quarterbacks to throw at least 270 passes last year, none measured below nine inches. Per Sharp Football Analysis, no quarterback with a hand size of 8½ or below has entered the NFL in the past five years. The most recent quarterback with that hand size who had appreciable success in the league was Michael Vick.

By comparison, Joe Burrow’s hand measures nine inches, yet that number caused enough chatter for the former LSU quarterback to joke at the 2020 combine that he was “considering retirement.” Instead, Burrow went on to become the No. 1 pick in the draft, and there wasn’t much talk about his hand size this past season as he led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl.

As with all measurements and drill results at the combine, hand size is a piece of the puzzle that NFL teams use to assess players’ potential to succeed at football’s highest level. Any outlier result — such as, say, a wide receiver running a particularly slow time in the 40-yard dash — could cause some teams to push a prospect down their draft boards. Some of the concern with hand size goes to a quarterback’s ability to grip NFL footballs, which can be bigger than those used in college, leading to speculation about accuracy or fumbling issues.

In Pickett’s case, that could be the difference between becoming the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft, going behind one or two others or possibly even slipping out of the first round altogether. Unlike Burrow, whose extraordinary senior season made him a slam-dunk candidate to be drafted first, Pickett is not widely predicted to be selected in the top 10.

This year’s quarterback crop is seen as relatively weak, particularly when compared with last year’s; players at that position went in the first three picks and then again at 11th and 15th. That could help keep Pickett atop his class, depending on how strongly certain NFL front offices feel about hand size.

“That’s all bulls---,” an unidentified NFL quarterbacks coach told draft analyst Matt Miller on Wednesday. “Can he play or can he not play? I think he can play.”

“I think the media runs with it more than I’d say NFL teams do,” Pickett, known for wearing gloves on each of his hands in games, told reporters Wednesday. “There wasn’t much talk about that in all the formal interviews and informal interviews I’ve had so far this week.”

Those interviews, though, came before teams had an official number for Pickett’s throwing hand. There had already been talk about it at the Senior Bowl, particularly on one rainy day when Pickett appeared to have some trouble with his passes.

Then again, it has been known to rain and to be cold and otherwise unpleasant at times in Pittsburgh, where Pickett completed 67.2 percent of his passes last season for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. That performance earned the 23-year-old a host of awards, all-American recognition and a third-place finish in the 2021 Heisman Trophy voting.

“It’s a complete joke, measuring this, measuring that,” Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi said last month of the chatter about Pickett’s hand size. “If they want to measure anything, what they should do is do open-heart surgery, go check and see how big that chest cavity is and how big the heart is inside that chest, if you really want to analyze. What are we talking about? There’s nobody out there who’s going to play harder and put everything he’s got into it than Kenny Pickett. This kid doesn’t have a flaw. That’s what [scouts] do.”

Of the other first-round quarterbacks candidates at the combine, Liberty’s Malik Willis had a 9½-inch hand, Mississippi’s Matt Corral checked in at 9⅝, North Carolina’s Sam Howell was at 9⅛, and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder received a hefty measurement of 10. The only other quarterback whose hand was measured at under nine inches was Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson at 8⅝.