Is Kenny Pickett QB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Is Kenny Pickett QB1? The Pittsburgh Panthers star has exploded this year, but discussing his draft stock involves more than his play alone.

Just how bad are Pickett’s hands?

Pickett’s tape shows a talented, experienced passer who checks off a lot of the physical and operational boxes required for quarterback play. But for Pickett, a growing concern has been his hand size.

To the non-initiated, it sounds odd — but hand size has been a talking point for quarterbacks in the past. There was some chatter when Burrow measured in with 9-inch hands at the 2020 NFL Combine. Pickett’s hands are rumored to be almost a full inch smaller, around 8 inches.

To put Pickett’s hand size into perspective, Burrow’s hands are the smallest among current active starters. The next smallest hands — 9.25 inches — belong to Patrick Mahomes, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Ryan Tannehill. The largest hands belong to Dak Prescott, at 10.875 inches. Josh Allen and Carson Wentz are close behind, with 10.125-inch hands and 10-inch hands, respectively.

In this 1.875-inch sample range among starters, hand size has proven not to matter much. Passers like Burrow and Mahomes are thriving, the same as Prescott and Allen. But what if you go a full inch lower? That’s what you’d have to do to reach Pickett’s size. And then, things get hairy.

Contextualizing Pickett’s hand size with historical data

Some reports have Pickett’s hand size at around 8.25 inches, while others tell of a figure slightly under 8. Whatever the case, this isn’t your usual hand size discussion. This is legitimate uncharted territory. A historical comparison — using data provided by resident RAS guru Kent Lee Platte — shows just how far off the map we are.

Over the past 37 seasons, 650 quarterbacks have registered hand measurements, either at combines or pro days. Of those 650 quarterbacks, Pickett would have the third-smallest hands of the group with his reported measurements. Only Tony Lowery (7.63 inches) and Doug Hudson (7.25 inches) had smaller. Divide it up, and Pickett’s hands are smaller than 99.6% of all hand measurements on record over that range. He’s in the 0.4th percentile.

This, of course, is contingent on Pickett’s reported measurements being confirmed in the offseason. But it’s easy to tell that his hands are smaller than the average QB. He famously wears two gloves to help with grip, and he also grips the ball a bit higher than normal — closer to the oblong end, where the circumference is smaller.

It’s worked for Pickett at the collegiate level so far. But NFL balls can run a bit bigger — sometimes as much as a full inch wider. With Pickett being such an outlier, one can’t help but feel some uncertainty toward his NFL projection. If he can’t grip NFL footballs as well, he can’t generate as much velocity. And without his trademark velocity, a lot of his favorite throws become more difficult to execute on a consistent basis.

QBWinz doesn’t matter. But QBHandz? That’s a legit thing.

Have Pickett’s hands ever been an issue in college?

From 2018 to 2020, Pickett had 19 total fumbles — one of the higher three-year totals among QBs over that span. He’s toned that down a little bit in 2021, but ball security was an issue at times earlier in his career. It’s difficult to trace that directly to Pickett’s hand size, however, as other QBs have had the same struggles.

Another thing to look for when assessing the effect of Pickett’s hand size in college is accuracy and velocity fluctuation — particularly in poor weather conditions, when gripping the football is more difficult. We got a close look at that against North Carolina earlier this year. Early in the game, when the rain was light, Pickett was surgical. But as the rain steepened, so too did Pickett’s inconsistencies.

It’s important to note, however, that this is a commonality for most quarterbacks — regardless of hand size. Conditions like rain or snow are always going to mess with a quarterback’s grip. And to Pickett’s credit, he ultimately closed out the game when the rain was near its heaviest. He didn’t collapse in adverse conditions, as one might theorize.

For the most part, Pickett’s hand size hasn’t been an issue in college. He’s shown to sling it either way. But college footballs and NFL footballs are different. Only slightly different, but it may be enough to disrupt the balance for Pickett.

That’s the problem, ultimately. We can’t know for sure until Pickett undergoes handling drills at offseason events like the Combine and the Senior Bowl. Thus, we can’t make a definitive statement at this point.

How to approach Kenny Pickett’s QB1 claim

Pickett’s hand size is something you can’t ignore — but it’s also something that shouldn’t overrule the tape. One can’t assume that, because he’s been fine in college, he’ll be fine in the NFL. But at the same time, outliers exist. Pickett’s status as an outlier doesn’t restrict him from finding success.

Pickett is a great quarterback with bad hands. I don’t think it would be wise to disregard him entirely because of a measurement. If you do, you’re overlooking a lot of quality traits. Hands aside, Pickett has the processing ability and field vision. He has the steely competitive toughness, and the requisite arm talent and athleticism to provide value off-script.

As a player, I wouldn’t blame you if you had Pickett QB1, like ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper does. I could also see evaluators taking Pickett off their boards entirely — or at least tanking his grade — because of the outlier hand size alone.

Pickett has legitimate talent but must prove his hands will translate

NFL teams face a lot of pressure investing premier draft capital into prospects. If there’s fear that Pickett might not be able to translate because of his hand size, that fear is very real and valid.

In history, there have been very few NFL passers, let alone starters, with Pickett’s hand size. There’s a definite correlation. Pickett will be the ultimate test on whether or not it’s causation as well.

In a weak 2022 quarterback class, Pickett’s strong play and well-rounded profile will earn him fans. So too will his toughness and resolve as a competitor. All it takes is one team to fall in love and clear his hands, and he’s destined for Round 1.

Pickett’s draft stock will be incredibly polarizing down the line. It all revolves around the Pitt football star’s hands. But I’d caution against dismissing success for Pickett as an impossibility, simply because we haven’t seen it before. Pickett has already proven people wrong by rising into the Round 1 conversation. Perhaps he can do it again.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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