Inside NFL’s Wonderlic Test – And Why It Matters
IRVING, Texas - I first started writing about the NFL’s use of the Wonderlic Test on draft-eligible prospects in the early ’90s, at a time when some thought it was a mad-scientist-level effort in overkill.
Twenty years later, we’ve come full-circle, some otherwise astute analysts terming it "out of date."
A tweet from Louis Riddick, the ESPN analyst and former NFL player and scout: "The Wonderlic as a measure of functional football intelligence has been considered irrelevant for so long that I am surprised it’s discussed."
But the fact then and now is unchanged: The NFL wants to measure your hand width and your 40 time and your body fat and your relationship with your parents and your bench press and your wingspan.
Why would it not be "relevant" to explore a million-dollar employee’s cognitive intelligence?
The Wonderlic, developed 90 years ago and administered by corporations to potential employees throughout the business world, is a 50-question, 12-minute, IQ-type test that begins with a series of mind-numbingly easy queries and gets progressively more difficult.
How challenging is the test? Some sample questions:
That’s from the easy end of the spectrum. With the clock ticking and your math skills faded, you might struggle a bit more with:
* A box of staples has a length of 6 cm, a width of 7 cm, and a volume of 378 cm cubed. What is the height of the box?
Me? I was lost at "cm."
Former Bengals punter Pat McInally, an Ivy Leaguer, scored the NFL’s only perfect 50.
Scores in the 30s are considered very good. Scores in the 20s are considered good. (The average score for reporters is 23, so there). Scores "below 10 or 12," the late NFL executive Bob Ackles once told me, "send up a serious red flag."
But that red flag doesn’t have to mean the player is dumb. And it certainly doesn’t mean he can’t play football.
In 1996 I got access to all the first-rounders’ Wonderlic scores. It’s worth a quick review:
1. New York Jets’ Keyshawn Johnson, 11
2. Jacksonville’s Kevin Hardy, 21
3. Arizona’s Simeon Rice, 13
4. Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden, 35
5 New York Giants’ Cedric Jones, 19
6. St. Louis’ Lawrence Phillips, 23
7. New England’s Terry Glenn, 15
8. Carolina’s Tim Biakabutuka, 12
9. Oakland’s Rickey Dudley, 14
10. Cincinnati’s Willie Anderson, 14.
11. New Orleans’ Alex Moulden, 23
12. Tampa Bay’s Regan Upshaw, 24
13. Chicago’s Walt Harris, 21
14. Houston’s Eddie George, 14
15. Denver’s John Mobley, 27.
16. Minnesota’s Duane Clemons, 20
17. Detroit’s Reggie Brown, 22
18. St. Louis’ Eddie Kennison, 12
19. Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison, 19
20. Miami’s Daryl Gardener, 11.
21. Seattle’s Pete Kendall, 41
22. Tampa Bay’s Marcus Jones, 24
23. Detroit’s Jeff Hartings, 38
24. Buffalo’s Eric Moulds, 11
25. Philadelphia’s Jermane Mayberry, 21.
26. Baltimore’s Ray Lewis, 13
27. Green Bay’s John Michels, 35
28. Kansas City’s Jerome Woods, 14
29. Pittsburgh’s Jamain Stephens, 22
30. Washington’s Andre Johnson, 23.
What jumps out? Obviously there is no automatic correlation between a score and a career. Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are both all-time greats while sitting at opposite ends of this scale. Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George had high-profile careers (with stops in Dallas) and are now high-profile members of the media and seem quite bright.
And maybe what I wrote about Jermane Mayberry is the most instructive story of all.
Mayberry played at Floresville (Texas) High and got poor grades, landing him at Texas A&M Kingville. His academic record was never good and he might’ve been expected to score poorly on an "intelligence test."
Yet he scored a 21.
It was discovered that as a child, Mayberry developed an eye condition called amblyopia that limited his vision - and therefore his reading ability. His poor grades were a result of that, not a result of a lack of intelligence.
Once he arrived in Philadelphia, Mayberry contributed funding to Eagles Eye Mobile to give free eye exams to underprivileged youth in the Philadelphia region. He played for a decade in the NFL and made a Pro Bowl.
The NFL has used Wonderlic since 1968 and has come to understand reading problems, learning differences and "cultural barriers" in the test. Some people have "test anxiety." Some learn differently. That doesn’t quite explain how LSU’s Mo Claiborne, now a Cowboy, attained his infamous 4 (Mo says he didn’t know to take the test seriously) or how former Texas QB Vince Young scored a 6.
But again, Wonderlic isn’t the end-all. A trio of Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw, each scored 15s. Bengals first-round washout QB Akili Smith had a 37. Cowboys QB bust QB bust Quincy Carter scored a 30. Troy Aikman scored 29 and Tony Romo 37.
Reported average scores by position go like this: Offensive tackle - 26, Center - 25, Quarterback - 24, Guard - 23, Tight end - 22, Safety - 19, Linebacker - 19, Cornerback - 18, Wide receiver - 17, Fullback - 17, Halfback 15.
Reported average scores for civilians go like this: Chemist - 31, Programmer - 29, Journalist - 26 (yeah!), Sales - 24, Bank teller - 22, Clerical worker - 21, Security guard - 17, Warehouse - 15.
Among this year’s draft-eligibles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is earning acclaim for his 32, second among QBs to only Cornell’s Jeff Mathews. Blake Bortles scored a 28, Teddy Bridgewater a 20.
Does this mean Mathews will be the most successful QB in this draft? Of course not. But does it mean Manziel may have answered yet another pre-draft question about him in a positive way? Certainly.
The Wonderlic is a tool. To overvalue it would be foolish; but to ignore its results would render a team as "dumb" as any football player who has ever flunked it.