I spoke with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard-educated starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, around NFL Combine time last year. Draft prospects were taking the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test in Indianapolis and I wanted to chat with a guy who’d nearly aced it.
When Fitzpatrick took the Wonderlic in 2005, he got just one question wrong. His score was reportedly one of the highest ever recorded by an NFL Draft prospect.
“Is the Wonderlic a good indicator of how a player will perform at the next level?” I asked Fitzpatrick, expecting a thorough Ivy League analysis of the test, its benefits, and the way it pinpoints the league’s next superstars.
He just laughed.
And then he laughed again.
Fitzpatrick said that although he could see a potential connection between answering 50 questions against a ticking clock in a classroom and being able to process information at a rapid pace on the field, he wouldn’t read too much into a prospect’s test scores.
“Dan Marino had a low score when he took it, right?” He asked. “I think his career turned out just fine.”
I thought about my conversation with Fitzpatrick on Tuesday when ProFootballTalk.com’s report that Morris Claiborne scored a 4 out of 50 on his Wonderlic hit the web in the early a.m. hours.
I cringed when I saw the deluge of Twitter and message board snark that followed. My emails about the news were drenched in hackneyed jokes and lazy cracks.
“Will the team that drafts him draw up the plays in crayon for him?” One reader wrote. Quickly followed by, “Just kidding. Where do you see him going now?”
I just finished watching several of Claiborne’s LSU game tapes, and I can tell you with great confidence that he is the top college cornerback we’ve seen enter the NFL Draft since Darrelle Revis left Pittsburgh in 2007. Claiborne was a better corner in college than his teammate Patrick Peterson and had better range than 2010’s seventh overall pick, Joe Haden.
Claiborne is a good kid, too. Ask anyone who follows the SEC and has had the chance to cross paths with him, and they’ll tell you that he’s a soft-spoken, polite kid from Shreveport, La.
He also has a learning disability.
According to Greg Gabriel at the National Football Post, Claiborne’s disability — though not specified— isn’t a secret around the league. When he was recruited out of high school, it was made clear to the various big-time college programs courting him that he’d need academic advisors and assistance in the classroom once he selected a school.
After deciding to attend LSU, Claiborne didn’t fade away and let the rigors of the college environment swallow him whole. He worked with tutors and utilized LSU’s various on-campus learning resources to get the grades he needed to stay academically eligible and compete.
Claiborne’s time in college should be celebrated. Hell, it’d make for a decent movie. Local kid defies the odds, attends the state’s university, gets enrolled in the right classes and goes on to make millions starring in the NFL. It’s as feel-good a story as you’ll get in today’s world of college athletics.
Instead, Claiborne is the joke of the Internet this week. He’s the “idiot” and the “jock” that couldn’t break double digits on an archaic, obsolete test that has no real relevance. He’s forced to defend himself on Twitter, as he did Tuesday, when he sent out a string of Tweets, including one that read, “If u don’t have haters u not doing something! It’s good to know I do. So keep tweeting. I love it!”
Whether Claiborne even scored a 4 is really neither here nor there, though.
The real issue is that the report was even leaked at all. Whether true or false, it’s a nefarious act from an individual or individuals who clearly have some incentives to damage a young man.
Did the score come from a team that wants to draft Claiborne and thought the information would stray another team away from doing so? Or was it from an agent trying to better position his own client, potentially a top cornerback, himself? You’ll drive yourself crazy playing Andy Sipowicz trying to figure that one out.
But we should know.
We should have the name of the tough guy who went public with information that’s supposed to be highly confidential.
The NFL conducts these tests in what are described as highly secure environments. The results are not intended to be leaked. And yet, here we are today, and Claiborne’s woeful Wonderlic is the biggest football headline of the day.
The truth is, Claiborne’s score won’t impact his draft stock in April. I assure you that he’ll be the first cornerback taken in the draft, regardless of how he performed with a No. 2 pencil in Indy.
He’ll get over it. He’ll use it as motivation. He’ll come out angry and he’ll have a fine NFL career. This will all be forgotten and five years from now, the same message board commenters that were mocking him today will be wearing his jersey and selling his game-used mouth guard on eBay.
But the slime that sheepishly — and worse off, anonymously — shared his score with a media outlet will never have to deal with it. He’ll continue to sit on his computer behind a desk and just know that he made a good kid feel bad today. He’ll know that he leaked a kid with a learning disability’s standardized test score to the world without providing any of the context that should have gone along with it.
He’ll sleep fine and likely won’t have to face any repercussions.
But I wish he would.
Roger Goodell’s all about security and the purity of the game. His stance on Bountygate was aggressive and firm. If the NFL is going to ask its draft prospects to take an exam under the assumption that the results won’t be made public, they should honor that agreement. Otherwise, why would any of these kids even bother?
Morris Claiborne could have walked out of that room and said, “I’ll be a top-10 pick regardless of what I score on this. What’s the point?” Hell, if his score’s going to be discussed on SportsCenter three weeks before the draft, he should have done that.
If you’re going to hold these kids responsible and ask them to honor their end of the pre-draft process, you should hold all parties responsible for it, too.