Size matters? QB Brandon Allen trying to make his hands bigger

Former Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has undergone hand enlargement treatments ahead of the NFL draft. But how much does size really matter in the NFL? 
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INDIANAPOLIS — Brandon Allen measured 8 1/2 inches at the Senior Bowl. This week at the combine, the former Arkansas quarterback measured 8 7/8 inches. By the time he performs in Fayetteville next month,  a confident Allen expects to show more growth. “I’m going to try to hit nine or above at my pro day,” Allen said Thursday.

Get your mind out of the gutter. Allen was talking about his right hand, which he has worked diligently to enlarge during the pre-draft process. Why? NFL teams prefer a quarterback’s outstretched hand to measure more than nine inches from the tip of the pinky to the tip of the thumb. It makes sense. A larger hand should make it easier for the quarterback to manipulate the ball, and gripping with a meaty paw should enhance ball security in the pocket. Perhaps that’s why the Seahawks were so confident in Russell Wilson when they selected him in the third round in 2012. While Wilson stood at just 5’11”, his hand measured a whopping 10 1/4 inches.

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Cal quarterback Jared Goff, a presumed first-rounder, had to answer a hand size question straight out of the gate Thursday. “I just heard about that yesterday,” said Goff, whose hand measured nine inches. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life.” And then, like every man who has proven through his performance that measurements don’t matter, Goff made a cocksure proclamation. “I’ve never had a problem with that,” he said, “and I don’t expect it to be a problem at all.”

Allen isn’t all that convinced size matters, either. As a senior using the hand that measured 8 1/2 inches at the Senior Bowl, Allen was one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks. He led the SEC and finished fifth in the country in yards per attempt (9.3). But if NFL teams care about hand size, then Allen cares about it, too. “If teams want to see that I can work on hand size,” he said, “then I can grow my hands.”

That’s why Allen underwent hand enlargement treatments between the Senior Bowl and the combine. In addition to workouts with quarterback coach Ken Mastrole in Florida, Allen has met with a massage therapist who has tried to loosen the tissue in Allen’s hand. “Basically, all these muscles in my hand are very tight, the massage therapist told me,” Allen said. “So he’s working out these muscles so that my hand kind of opens up a little more when I stretch it.” And because he is dedicated to this cause, Allen has also done plenty of solo work. “A lot on my own just stretching it out and working it,” he said.

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So how much do teams really care about this measurement? Is a 10-incher really that much more effective than 9-incher? Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin isn’t convinced that the way the NFL measures hand size produces a meaningful result.

“That’s an 8-inch hand,” Tobin said, holding up his hand. “And that’s a 10-inch hand,” Tobin said, stretching his fingers wide. 

As Allen’s massage therapist told him, those who can stretch their thumbs and pinkies can cheat the ruler. “And if you can’t extend your thumb or your pinky, you end up with a small hand and you may not have a small hand,” Tobin said. “It’s a little bit useless of a measurement.” Tobin prefers a more gentlemanly assessment. “When you shake a guy’s hand,” he said, “you know whether he’s got a big hand or not.”

That doesn’t mean Tobin, whose starting quarterback (Andy Dalton) has a 9 1/2 hand, doesn’t care about hand size. He cares deeply about it come December. “Certainly, the bigger the better,” Tobin said. “We play in the AFC North. You’re going to play in some bad games and some bad weather. So we want guys to be able to hold on to the football.”

Is Tobin right? Is bigger really better? Prior to the 2014 draft, writer Colby Rogers tried to find an empirical answer. Using hand size as measured at the combine and stats such as starts, touchdown passes and interceptions, Rogers found that the best hand size to have is…average. The group with hands between 9.25 and 9.75 inches outperformed the groups on either side of the less than or greater than symbol.

According to the NFL’s measurement standard, Allen’s hand has grown almost half an inch in a month. Does the football feel any different to him at 8 7/8 inches? “No,” he said. “Not really at all.” Does he understand that when stripped of the football context, this entire topic sounds incredibly dirty? Of course, but he doesn’t care. “We’re growing,” he said. “Make it dirtier.”

So Allen will keep pushing and keep stretching to reach nine inches. If that moves him up a few draft spots, all the better. Once he gets in camp, he’ll have a chance to prove it isn’t the size of the hand but the spiral of the football.