Aldon Smith laughingThere’s a reason why NFL prospects are poked, prodded and measured. From a distance, football looks like a mass of bodies, some bigger than others but not noticeably so, pushing each other around. But an inch here and a little more leverage there can be the difference between winning and losing plays and games.

Thanks to Matt Barrows, we now know how much the San Francisco 49ers appreciate players with long arms.

(Aldon) Smith’s arms measure 35 3/8 inches from shoulder to the end of his middle finger, giving him one of the longest reaches of any player, including offensive tackles, in the 2011 draft. It’s the reason I wanted to call him, “The Condor,” (which somehow hasn’t really caught on. Yet.)

None of the 49ers’ draft picks have overtaken Smith in terms of lever length. But as you see, many of them – indeed, most of them – stand out in this category. Even quarterback B.J. Daniels measures up at 32 inches, which is pretty long for someone who stands 5-11.

S Eric Reid – 33 5/8 inches
DL Tank Carradine – 34 ¾
TE Vance McDonald – 34 ½
OLB Corey Lemonier – 34 ½
Quinton Patton – 31 3/8
Marcus Lattimore – 32 ½
Quinton Dial – 34 ½
Nick Moody – 31 5/8
B.J. Daniels – 32
Carter Bykowski – 33 ¾
Marcus Cooper – 32 ¾
Lawrence Okoye – 34 ½
Luke Marquardt – 34 1/2

Indisputable evidence, that. The 49ers like guys who’ll never be confused with T-Rexes. They’re also known for liking guys who’ve been productive in college, so there you go: long-armed guys who were good before the NFL Draft. Seems pretty simple. But there has to be another way to measure how the 49ers decide who to add in late April. And there is.

In last week’s draft 49ers were just like Austin Powers in that they shied away from the players with small hands. Here’s the same list Barrows provided, with hand size measurements included (in the cases where I could find them).

S Eric Reid – 33 5/8 inches (10)
DL Tank Carradine – 34 ¾ (10 1/4)
TE Vance McDonald – 34 ½ (10 1/8)
OLB Corey Lemonier – 34 ½ (10 1/8)
Quinton Patton – 31 3/8 (9 3/8)
Marcus Lattimore – 32 ½ (9 7/8)
Quinton Dial – 34 ½ (9 3/8)
Nick Moody – 31 5/8 (9 5/8)

Players with hands that measure over 9.5 inches are the exception, and the 49ers drafted six guys who fall in that category. Patton was the only guy without extraordinarily long arms and/or large hands, but he was a guy who was considered a second/third round WR who fell to the fourth round, possibly because Patton takes long plane trips that aren’t necessary (not that Harbaugh minds). In that case the 49ers may not have been worried about the measurements since they had the chance to pick up a receiver who was extremely productive at Louisiana Tech.

To see if there’s a pattern, I went through the previous three Trent Baalke drafts.

2012
A.J. Jenkins – 32 3/4 (9 1/2)
LaMichael James – 30 1/4 (9)
Joe Looney – 32 1/4 (9 3/4)
Darius Fleming – 33 (9 3/8)
Cam Johnson – 33 1/2 (9)

Not much to report here, although none of the guys have arms that would be considered short except the diminutive tailback they drafted in the second round. The first two picks were skill position guys, and both Looney and Johnson were examples of the 49ers prospecting on guys who fell due to injury concerns.

2011
Aldon Smith – 35 3/8 (9 3/4)
Colin Kaepernick – 33 1/2 (9 1/8)
Chris Culliver – 31 1/4 (8 5/8)
Kendall Hunter – 31 (8 3/4)
Daniel Kilgore – 32 1/2 (10)
Ronald Johnson – 30 3/4 (9)
Bruce Miller – 30 1/4 (9)

The 49ers definitely like their linebackers to have long arms and their offensive linemen to have big hands, as you’ll see in …

2010
Anthony Davis – 34 (10 1/8)
Mike Iupati – 34 3/4 (10 5/8)
Taylor Mays – 34 (10 1/4)
NaVorro Bowman – 33 (9 7/8)
Anthony Dixon – 32 5/8 (9 3/4)
Nate Byham – 33 1/2 (10)
Kyle Williams – 30 (9 1/8)

In terms of these two specific measurement areas, the 2013 draft class looks most similar to this group. No wonder Mike Iupati is so difficult to beat — he can make contact first because his arms are crazy-long, and once he gets ahold of a defender they’re out of luck because his hands are almost the size of medium pizzas. However, long arms and big hands don’t necessarily guarantee NFL success, as we can see in the cases of Mays and Byham.

There are exceptions here, and clearly position has a lot to do with what they look for. It isn’t necessary for a speedy running back to have long arms — or even big hands, unless they’re known for fumbling excessively. But as we look at who the 49ers might grab in future drafts, instead of looking at what school they attended or how they did in the three-cone drill, we might want to look at what the measuring tape says.