Senior Bowl Measurements: Which ones matter most?

Which measurements are the most important at the Senior Bowl? PFN Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline weighs in on what to look for in Mobile.

With Shrine Bowl practices ready to kick off and Senior Bowl practices just three days away, get ready for a deluge of arm, hand, and wingspan measurements, plus the usual height and weight numbers. While many will discuss “winning the weigh-ins” or red flags on certain NFL Draft prospects, that’s all kind of silly in my opinion. Yet, measurements are taken for a reason — here are some of those reasons.

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Which measurements matter most at the Senior Bowl?

Which physical measurements should you keep an eye out for during the Senior Bowl? Here are the most critical numbers.

Arm length

Arm length is essential at some positions, the obvious one being offensive line. It’s especially important for offensive tackles, who use long arms to steer pass rushers from their angle of attack. Some teams won’t use a lineman at offensive tackle if his arm length is less than 34 inches.

But it’s important to be careful. Years ago, when Michigan’s Jeff Backus was measured at the Senior Bowl, his arms came in at barely 33 inches. I was present and heard the groans. He was immediately canceled at the left tackle position he held down for Michigan and excelled at during Senior Bowl practice. To their credit, the Detroit Lions didn’t buy into the negative hype and selected Backus in the first round. They placed him at left tackle, where he had a long and productive career.

How about this year? Watch the measurement for Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, as I’m told he has shorter arms.

Long arms are also beneficial for defensive linemen. They can use that length to keep blockers off their frames or get up in the air to knock away passes. Obviously, long arms are also advantageous for receivers, tight ends, and defensive backs. The longer the reach, the easier it is to get to the ball first. Often, long arms are not desirable at quarterback. Longer arms usually lead to an elongated throwing motion and a slower release.

Hand size

Big hands are also desired by every guy who plays football — and the jokes just write themselves with that one.

For offensive linemen, the bigger the hands, the easier it is to control a defender. For defensive linemen, it makes hand combat simpler. At receiver and tight end, big hands make snatching the ball out of the air easier — ditto for defensive backs.

Of course, hand size is significant at the quarterback position. Gripping and protecting the football when running or rolling outside the pocket is less of a challenge with big hands. Nine inches is the demarcation point for hand size at quarterback. Anything less than nine inches, and your chances of being an early-round pick are minimal.

That brings us to Kenny Pickett, graded in some quarters as the top signal-caller in this year’s draft. As I’ve been reporting since October, Pickett’s hands are said to measure slightly over eight inches. That’s usually a big red flag. Yet, as I’ve also confirmed, Pickett has double-jointed thumbs. That should make it easier for him to grip the football.

Which measurements aren’t as important?

Which measurements get too much attention at the Senior Bowl? This first one you might not expect.

Wingspan

Wingspan is probably the least important measurement of any prospect leading up to the draft. Yes, it measures a player’s combined arm span and chest section. Yet, except for rare occasions when someone is attempting to block a field goal or extra point, when does a football player have both arms fully extended?

This is in direct contrast to NBA prospects, who usually extends both arms vertically attempting to pull down rebounds. In basketball, wingspan is critical.

Leg length

This one is more of an oddity than something that’s not important — they never measure leg length at any of the pre-draft all-star games, NFL Combine, or pro day workouts. To me, this is rather surprising. Long legs are usually not desired by NFL teams for a variety of reasons.

For linemen, long legs mean a greater area of exposure. That can lead to injury or having your legs taken out. At receiver, defensive back, and even linebacker, long legs typically accompany a loping, slower style of play — rather than the ability to quickly move around the field. Changing direction is more difficult for the long-limbed compared to shorter-legged players.

While people will debate arm length and hand size over the next four months, it’s the film that matters most. I’ll always take a good football player over a prospect with great dimensions who never lives up to the potential.

Tony Pauline is the Chief Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Tony’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @TonyPauline.

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