INDIANAPOLIS – Ready or not, here it comes:
- It's televised, analyzed to the point of the ridiculous, and often that's precisely what the NFL Combine appears to be to lay people. A lot of money is being spent by the NFL and its 32 member teams here this week, and some of the information gathered comes off as minutiae, because, well, it is. But there is a significant investment that will be made in these athletes in a couple of months – both in terms of salary to be paid, and in terms of commitment of the rather limited annual human resources available to teams seeking to improve their rosters.
- To be fair, maybe it's not the gathering of the information, but the perception of the way it's used that comes off as ridiculous.
- A prime example surfaced early in the process of this 2016 NFL Combine.
- Hand size.
- Since college football programs feel free to embellish heights and weights and speeds of their players, a good bit of each prospect's time at the start of his participation in these Underwear Olympics is spent being measured. There are the easy ones – height, weight, arm length – and then there are some other measurements taken.
A look back at current members of the Steelers offense when they were at the NFL Scouting Combine.
- Hand size. And apparently, hand size is big in the evaluation of quarterbacks here.
- To measure hand size properly, the person being measured is instructed to open his hand and spread his fingers as much as possible. Then the hand size is determined by measuring the distance between the end of the thumb and the end of the pinkie finger.
- One of the quarterback prospects in this draft class is Brandon Allen, who played at the University of Arkansas. He was the team's full-time starter in 2014-15, and in those 26 games he completed 434-of-709 passes (61.2 percent) for 5,725 yards, with 50 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Judging those startistics the way the NFL does, Allen's passer rating was 102.6.
- But all anyone was talking about yesterday was how Allen had increased his hand size since the Senior Bowl, which was played about a month ago. Down in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, Allen's hand size measured 8.5 inches. Apparently, that was sufficiently alarming to Allen that he decided on a course of massage therapy.
- "I think I had five sessions between the Senior Bowl and (the Combine), and I've done a lot of stretching on my own, too," Allen said. "The therapist thinks we can get it to nine-(inches)-plus. That's what I'm shooting for by pro day. I'm going to keep doing it."
- Allen's hand size was measured at 8-and-7/8 at the Combine, which means the massage therapy added three-eights of an inch. And if that's not strange enough, Allen said Jameis Winston underwent the same course of massage therapy last year, and Winston ended up being the first overall pick in the draft.
- How much hand size convinced the Buccanneers to pick Winston instead of Marcus Mariota is a state secret, but hand size has been something scouts have considered in these evaluations for decades. I once was told by a scout – with a straight face, mind you – that Dan Marino would have trouble in the NFL because his hands were too small.
- Steelers' fans who might happen to believe in the importance of hand size and who also are in favor of their favorite team using an early-round draft pick on a tight end as a response to Ben Roethlisberger's retirement might fall in love with Stanford's Austin Hooper. A shade shorter than 6-foot-4, and weighing 254 pounds, Hooper is described as a good receiver and a willing blocker, and he checked in with the biggest hands among all of the tight ends – 10-and-5/8 inches from the tip of his thumb to the tip of his pinkie finger.
- Hooper also showed great awareness. During the media session, Hooper was asked if he had an interview scheduled with the Steelers. His answer was, yes. Then he was asked if he was aware that Heath Miller recently retired. Hooper answered, "Yes sir. I noticed (Miller retired), and that Rob Branchflower is no longer part of the Steelers, I believe, too."
- Nicely done. Way to know your NFL rosters, Austin.
- The Combine is an exciting time for many NFL fans because it offers hope for their favorite teams to improve, and it can be fun to imagine the possibilities of adding some of the more dyamic players here to what could be an NFL roster seemingly lacking only what those athletes have to offer.
- Speaking to the assembled media here earlier this week, Carolina General Manager Dave Gettleman threw a wet blanket on such enthusiasm. After making the point that Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh had "a 2-year rule" when it came to determining if a young guy was going to have an impact on his new team, Gettleman said, "We're not getting instant oatmeal anymore, and you've got to understand there's going to be growing pains. Nothing's easy. A guy can have all the talent in the world. But this game is about fundamentals and when we're getting them they don't have it. So our coaches have to really coach and teach, and it takes longer."
- Keep that in mind as you dream as you continue to enjoy the wall-to-wall telecast of this Combine.