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Small Hands, Big Problem?

We have a problem on our hands.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's officially a NFL Combine Season when collective minds lose their sanity over few inches (or lack thereof) on a 21 year old man. Recently, we just had a mass hysteria over Jared Goff, this year's one of top QB prospects, having hands an inch smaller than his counterpart Carson Wentz's.

Although us Pats fans can stay away from this hot mess, thanks to Brady, we can't escape from the side story of this topic: Hand size of receivers.

It certainly does help to have big mitts in order to catch these pigskins (see: Odell Beckham Jr). At the opposite end of the spectrum, the vast majority of Pats fans became allergic to receivers with small hands after seeing the Aaron Dobsons (9'') and Kenbrell Thompkins (8 3/4") of the world keep juggling and double-catching passes like that clown you invited to your daughter's birthday party (As much as I despise over-generalizations and analyzing things with proper context, I would't blame you). But are small hands really the deal breaker for receivers?

Statistical Analysis

Joe Redemenn of the NumbersFire just did an excellent statistical analysis on whether hand size of wide receivers can predict their overall production. I strongly suggest you read the entire article.

Few take aways:

We’ve all heard of the 40-yard dash, but the NFL measures player arm length and hand size as well, and there is a massive systemic bias against players with small paws.

But is this a fair prejudice to have? The Seattle Seahawks hit big on wide receiver Tyler Lockett in last year’s draft, despite his having 8 3/8-inch hands. That didn’t stop him from catching a solid 51 of 68 targets (75.0 percent Catch Rate) for 664 yards and 6 touchdowns in his rookie year.

Credit goes to Joe Redemenn

Credit goes to Joe Redemenn

Across the board, it seems, there is support for the potential for there to be a correlation between receiving value and hand size in wide receivers. There are very mild -- though nowhere near ironclad -- correlations between hand size and each variable, excepting only Yards Per Target.

Interestingly, the average "bust" wide receiver hand size is exactly identical to the "successful" average -- 9 1/3 inches -- but of receivers with 10-inch hands or more, they were non-contributors at about a 27.59 percent rate; receivers with smaller than 9-inch hands busted at a slightly higher 30.30 percent rate.

So, what exactly does all of this mean?

No, you shouldn’t run out and buy up every player in your fantasy football leagues with exactly a 9 1/3-inch hand or that you should immediately sell any receiver you own who has  "shrimp forks". But, when looking for elite upside at the wide receiver position, it is better to have baseball mitts to catch with than tweezers.

Not every wideout with enormous hands is going to be incredible on the football field, but this is simply another piece of information to watch carefully this weekend at the NFL Combine.

After all, you know what they say about receivers with small hands… They have to excel in other ways to get solid playing time.

Therefore, it is statistically shown that the bigger hands modestly yet not insignificantly help receivers' overall productions, albeit it is far from something that can be a fatal flaw. There are ways to make up for your small hands. What are those?

Traits Needed to Catch Football Well

Not only the hand size is just a piece of puzzle for predicting receivers production, it is for the act of catching itself. Having bigger hands doesn't necessary mean these pigskins will be automatically sucked into them without even trying. There are traits that can make you a good catcher even your hands aren't big or first name isn't Holden.

This raises an interesting point. How much of aforementioned Odell Beckham's grabs can be attributed to his elite concentrations / eye-hand coordination instead of his sheer hand size? How much of aforementioned drops / double catches of Thompkins came from his propensity to dive unnecessarily or take eyes off from passes for sake of YAC (poor techniques)? It's hard to quantify them, but it is at least foolish to attribute EVERYTHING to the hand size only.

After All, Why Does the Hand Size Matter?

So far, I pegged the hand size only as something "that kinda helps or hurts ability to catch." Off course, professional scouts have deeper reasons to measure the hand size of countless number of receivers per off season.

Matt Miller of the Bleacher Report Wrote:

Why does hand size matter for a quarterback or a wide receiver?

That's something that came up this week after I tweeted out measurements of Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams (5'10 ½", 195 lbs, 8 ¾" hands) and UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe (6'3", 188 lbs, 7¾" hands). Both are well below standard NFL thresholds, which are nine-inch hands for quarterbacks and between 9-9 ½" hands for wide receivers.

Why does this matter?

Because NFL teams don't want 800 players on their draft boards, nor do they want their scouts overwhelmed with tape. So they cut the fat by filtering out players who have measurables below what they feel works for each position. This can bite you in the butt, but more often than not it works.

The way I was taught to look at this was to separate the bottom 10 percent of hand-size athletes at quarterback and wide receiver (or arm length at offensive line) and see if the poor measurables affected their play. If it did, they would be eliminated from the draft board.

So this is one dirty secret of professional scouting. Because they actually have to study countless prospects within limited time frame, they have to screen out some of them solely based on measureables without watching tapes. This is indeed pragmatic in grand scheme of things, but just like Miller insinuated, some capable prospects do fall through the crack in this process.

The Ultimatum

Now consider this hypothetical prospect. Tapes consistently show he is a reliable and strong catcher. Analysts and fans equivocally confirm that notion. But alas this guy has very sub par 8'' inch hands. Are you comfortable with Pats drafting him?

It turns out, such prospect is not hypothetical. One of them actually resides in our back yard.

The UMass receiver also has done his share of chuckling. Particularly when the subject is his hand size. Or more specifically, his perceived lack of hand size.

"I kind of laugh about it," said the 21-year-old Sharpe. "It’s funny to me. It doesn’t really matter to me what size my hands are as long as I can catch the ball. It’s never been a problem for me. It’s not something I can work on. My hand size is what it’s going to be. I kind of laugh about it. It’s funny to hear all the jokes that are made, but it doesn’t bother me at all.’’

At least Sharpe’s hands are trending in the right direction. At the East-West Shrine Game, Sharpe’s hands were measured at 7¾ inches. At the Senior Bowl they checked in at 8. This week Sharpe was given a measurement of 8.

Do you need a visual evidence? There ya go.

Everything screams he has everything that makes him a good pass catcher, EXCEPT big hands. And if he has been able to catch extremely well as a college football player, why bother he's doing it with small hands?

There are pros and cons to this statement:

(This is actually a revised version of my comment I made on this thread. But I thought this deserves more attention as a topic of discussion).

Pros

1) The ultimate goal should be always be obtaining the desirable end result (in this case, the ability to catch). Desirable traits (big hands) are preferred because it predicts the result we are looking for, but they are not important in themselves nor shouldn't become the ultimate goal. In other words, you don't go after big hands just for sake of them. If you find the desirable result, you've already achieved the goal.

2) Some might argue, the desirable result is a product of weaker competition in CFB. I'd counterague that, the ability to cacth in particular is less dependent on the quality of competition compare to, say, the ability to separate from defenders (which is the main culprit of letting some spread offense WRs to have skewed stats). When you are trying to separate, you always have the defender in the equation. On the other hand, if you are trying to catch, after creating separation, on many occasions the defender are no where close enough to influence the catching process.

After all, I'd argue the ability to catch is a type of trait that would be more translatable from the college level to the NFL. Therefore, if a player can do it during the college, it's less likely that we'd see a huge drop off in that department once he turns into a pro.

Cons

With that being said, there's indeed a possibility that once non factor hand size (or lack thereof) at the college level would all of the sudden present itself as an issue at the pro level.

1) Our QB throws bullet passes into tight windows like no other. This definitely decreases the margin of error on the receivers part.

2) College football regular season ends in late November / early December. And the Bowl games tend to take place in either warm places or indoor stadiums. On the other hand, that's pretty much when the "real football" starts in Foxborogh, with stakes being much higher.

3) Footballs used in NFL is slightly bigger than those in CFB. But we do know Patriots can handle this, right Grigson? However, all star games or the Combine off course use the NFL standard football therefore if a player pass these tests, this concern should be out of the equation.

4) In NFL, there are DBs with better ball skills (such as Peanut Tillman) who excel in ripping balls out of receivers hands. This again decreases the margin of error.

Final Words

I hate resorting to cliches, but ultimately, every account says the hand size is only one piece of puzzle in the scouting process. It is one of many handy tools (pun intended) but nothing more than that.  You always need to analyze each prospect holistically and if the whole body of work checks out despite his small hands, you shouldn't be afraid to pull the trigger, in my opinion.