Various sportsbooks had been listing Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, the 2021 ACC Offensive Player of the Year and third-place Heisman finalist, as the betting favorite to be the first quarterback chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft, but SportsLine oddsmakers now have Liberty's Malik Willis as the favorite after Pickett's hand measurement at the NFL Combine on Thursday.
Why does hand measurement matter so much for an NFL quarterback? The thinking goes that the bigger the hands, the less likely a quarterback will be to fumble. In addition, the cliché is that a QB with bigger hands would be much more successful in weather-related games (cold, wind, rain, snow, etc.). Cold-weather outdoor teams tend to shy away from QBs with small hands. Most NFL teams prefer their quarterbacks have a hand size of at least 9.5 inches.
There had been widespread speculation that Pickett's hands were going to measure very small after he declined to have them measured at the Senior Bowl. Pickett said he declined then because he's double jointed, meaning his thumb naturally points an odd direction, and that he was doing extra exercises to get an accurate measurement at the Combine.
Pickett's right (throwing) hand measurement Thursday was 8.5 inches – and he did fumble a whopping 38 times in his collegiate career. For a point of comparison, the average hand size for the 39 quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2008-2020 was 9.7 inches. If Pickett were to be selected in the first round, he would have the smallest hands of any quarterback taken on the first day since 2003.
Of the 663 quarterbacks with measured hand sizes since 1987, only nine had smaller than 8.5-inch hands. There is no quarterback in the NFL currently with 8.5-inch hands and hasn't been one in at least five years. The Saints' Taysom Hill has the smallest hands among current QBs at 8.75 and is the only one under 9.
The last truly successful quarterback with 8.5-inch hands was Michael Vick, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001. Joe Burrow was mildly criticized for small hands; his measured 9 inches. Kyler Murray is small in stature, but his hands measured 9.5 inches. Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford had the biggest hands of No. 1 overall QB picks this century at 10 inches each. The biggest hands among current QBs belong to the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (10¼ inches), Packers' Aaron Rodgers (10⅛) and Bills' Josh Allen (10⅛).
Pickett is listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. We don't have Willis' official hand measurements yet (believed to be 9.5 inches) but in college he was listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. Willis has spectacular mobility and arm strength but has been scrutinized for his inaccuracy. The Auburn transfer posted a 61.1 completion percentage in 2021 for Liberty. Willis is considered to have a higher ceiling than Pickett, who is much more accurate, but would likely need a season in the NFL to sit and learn. Pickett is considered ready to play.
The CBS Sports Big Board lists Ole Miss' Matt Corral (hands measured 9.58") as the top-ranked QB at No. 20 overall, followed by Willis at No. 21 and Pickett at No. 22.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Pickett as the top QB at No. 19 overall, with Willis at No. 20 and Corral not in his Top 25. Kiper has Pickett selected No. 11 overall by Washington and Willis at No. 20 to Pittsburgh in his latest mock draft.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Who will be the first QB chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft?
- Malik Willis +130
- Kenny Pickett +150
- Matt Corral +900
- Sam Howell +1000
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