The 2022 NFL Draft‘s quarterback class has been talked about to death. And after all the talking, we still know next to nothing about how it will turn out. Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Matt Corral all failed to take the desired leaps this year. The wild card is Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, but will his hand size affect his draft stock down the stretch?
Will Kenny Pickett’s hand size affect his draft stock?
No draft prospect has improved their 2022 NFL Draft stock this season more than Kenny Pickett. But back in the 2021 offseason, there wasn’t nearly as much certainty for the Pitt passer. Set to turn 23 in 2021, Pickett felt the call of the 2021 NFL Draft — but received Day 3 grades from evaluators.
Backed against the wall, with time running out, Pickett chose to use his extra year of eligibility and return to Pitt for a fifth year. It was a dangerous bet, but now, betting on himself has paid off. Pickett believed he could be a first-rounder, and he’s played himself into that range with his 2021 campaign.
In 13 games ahead of bowl season, Pickett completed 334 of 497 passes (67.2%) for 4,319 yards, 42 scores, and 7 picks. Not even counting his status as a Heisman finalist, Pickett has already attracted several accolades, including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and ACC Player of the Year.
Pickett has undoubtedly embarked on a meteoric rise, similar to Joe Burrow. But assessing his 2022 NFL Draft stock isn’t as simple as observing his play on the field. Reported to have hands just over 8 inches in size (8 1/4 inches), Pickett’s hand size has been the talk of the town. And there’s concern that it may prevent him from consistently gripping NFL footballs. Is this concern merited, and how may it impact his landing spot on draft day?
Tony Pauline provides insight on Pickett’s stock
On the latest episode of PFN’s Between the Hashes podcast, PFN Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline spoke at length about Pickett, touching on both his draft stock and the hand size concerns. Pauline began with Pickett’s draft stock and had this to say about where the Panthers passer is trending:
“The overall belief in the league is he’ll be the first quarterback drafted,” Pauline said. “He probably will be a first-round pick, but he’s really a third-round prospect. And he’ll be a first-round pick and the first quarterback drafted only because of the need at the position. I don’t know if Matt Corral passes him. I don’t think he does, but everything right now looks like Kenny Pickett will be the first quarterback drafted.
“We talked about last week: If he goes to the Senior Bowl, has a good week of practices, because the Senior Bowl is a king-maker at a lot of positions — most importantly the quarterback position. Carson Wentz, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers — guys who went there as Day 2 picks, fringe first-rounders, then just skyrocketed up draft boards. That’s the opportunity that is in front of Pickett, and I hope he takes hold of it.”
A caveat in the hand size discussions
Pauline then went on to discuss Pickett’s hand size. While Pauline confirmed that Pickett will measure in with hands under the standard 9 inches, he revealed a previously unknown caveat in the hand size discussion that could change the way Pickett’s hands are viewed. Here’s what Pauline had to say:
“As far as his hands are concerned … you want your quarterback to have 9-inch hands,” Pauline said. “Now, I’ve been told time and time again by scouts, when Pickett’s hands were measured, they measured slightly over 8 inches — which would be a red flag.
“But there’s a caveat — there’s a curveball to this. I’ve verified this with a number of people. Kenny Pickett evidently has a double-jointed thumb on his throwing hand. Somebody said to me, ‘if you ever meet Pickett and he shakes your hand, the thumb seems all out of wack.’ That’s because it comes out sideways, and it doesn’t go straight up. And what that double-jointed thumb does, is it makes it easier for him to grip the football.
“I’ve talked to a couple of people that say ‘yeah, if his hands are under 9 inches,’ but the double-jointed thumb is working to his advantage — to basically grip the football. Some teams who really like Kenny Pickett may overlook the fact that his hands are under 9 inches if this double-jointed thumb is going to help him.
“Now what they’ll do, is they’ll put the ball in his hands, and they’ll try to beat it out of his hands to see if he can grip the football. But what I’m hearing is, this double-jointed thumb on Kenny Pickett’s throwing hand is actually working to his advantage and may offset the concerns about the small hand size.”
Contextualizing Pickett’s hand size in the NFL Draft
The conversation on Pickett’s hands is trending toward uncharted territory. If Pickett’s hands are confirmed to be 8 1/4 inches at the Senior Bowl, Pickett would have the third-smallest hands of 650 quarterbacks to measure over the past 37 seasons. (For more on this data — compiled by resident RAS expert Kent Lee Platte — click here.) It’s a known issue, and it’s reportedly why Pickett wears two gloves.
It’s rare to see an NFL quarterback, let alone a starter, with that hand size. But the double-jointed thumb throws a wrench in an already trepidatious discussion. The double-jointed thumb won’t make Pickett’s hand bigger. However, if it adjusts the way he can grip the football and helps him handle the circumference, it may mitigate the grip concerns that usually come with smaller hands.
As Pauline mentioned, the Senior Bowl is the big test for Pickett. If he can use his double-jointed thumb to put the same velocity and spin on NFL footballs, and if he can hold strong through handling and contact drills, then teams may start to come to grips with his potential as a starting quarterback.
The hand size is easily the biggest red flag for Pickett. If he clears that, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Pickett already has lots of fans on the draft circuit
Hand size aside, Pickett already has a lot of buzz as a potential QB1 candidate. And one could make a case that, if it wasn’t for his hand size, he’d already be the clubhouse favorite for the position. That’s just as much an indictment of the weak QB class. But it also speaks to the growth Pickett has undergone this year.
Some high-profile evaluators, like ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., have Pickett as their QB1. But if Pickett struggles with grip at the Senior Bowl, evaluators could just as easily take him off their board entirely. College footballs are smaller than NFL footballs. Thus, there will be a bit of an adjustment for Pickett. Even a small change could create a large variance in play.
On the flip side, if Pickett proves he can deal with the change, there aren’t many other flaws on his profile. He’s a great athlete with enough arm strength, as well as high-level off-script ability. He also may be the best processor in the 2022 NFL Draft’s QB class. His hand size is the only thing standing in the way of him being the first QB off the board. If it ultimately proves to be a non-issue, he’s in line to be the favorite.