Some Clarification is in Order: The Wonderlic in the Modern NFL

There has been some talk about the Wonderlic in the past couple weeks, largely concerning Patrick Peterson. Now after some discussion, I wanted to do some research for myself on the matter. Now there are lots of sites up about the matter, with support for both sides, so with current research sites not really useful, I decided to research it myself. Now this will not be an indepth look at all NFL players in relation to NFL success being tied to Wonderlic scores, that would be far to large of a data set for me to handle, plus the data just isn't there for over half the players in the league, at least not at my access.

So a quick recap on what the Wonderlic test is. From Wikipedia:

The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test (formerly known as the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT)) is a twelve-minute, fifty-question test used to assess the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving in a range of occupations. The test was developed by industrial psychologist Eldon F. Wonderlic. The score is calculated as the number of correct answers given in the allotted time. A score of 20 is intended to indicate average intelligence (corresponding to an intelligence quotient of 100)... A new version was released in January 2007 called the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test (formerly known as the Wonderlic Personnel Test – Revised).

And from Wonderlic's own site on the Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test:

The Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test helps measure general mental ability, widely accepted as being one of the single best predictors of job success. It helps measure a candidate's ability to understand instructions, learn, adapt, solve problems and handle the mental demands of the position.

Wonderlic has been creating these types of test for over 70 years and has administered over 200 million tests.

Now that we have a little history on the test, let's jump into the meat of the matter.


History of the Test in the NFL:

The Wonderlic was first used in the NFL in thr early 1970's by only a handful of coaches. It wasn't till much later that it was being used before every draft. The NFL didn't really take much notice of the Wonderlic till the late 1980's and early 1990's, prior to that, many players took the test, but few coaches paid attention. As time passed in the 1990's, the importance of the Wonderlic rose among coaches and GM's, and by the end of the millennium, the Wonderlic was one of the main things look at for players, especially quarterbacks and offensive lineman. Players prior to the mid 1990's in interview almost never made mention of studying or paying much attention to the Wonderlic, it wad actually almost never brought up. But as the 1990's wore on, more and more players were being prepped for the Wonderlic. By 2006, then newly selected NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that almost every player he talked to at the Combine and in private meetings, had practiced at least once for the Wonderlic. Now it should be noted that scores aren't officially released often, but they usually get leaked every draft, especially for skill position players like quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, so data for every player in the league is impossible to obtain.

This rise in the importance of the Wonderlic is very interesting to note, because when many people give examples of poor Wonderlic scores for a player who succeed, Dan Marino for example, they almost entirely came prior to this focus on the Wonderlic in the late 1990's and early 2000's. So to truly understand the Wonderlic's importance in predicting, or at least connecting, with success, I will look at the modern age of Wonderlic scores. Because like the rule changes of the 1970's that changed the passing game, it's very hard to compare players before and after that time period. The same can be said for Wonderlic scores: Prior to the 2000's, players didn't prepare for the Wonderlic like they do now, thus the scores will be lower. A lower score in the current system means more then the same score in the 1980's.

So this is such a key important note, you can't logically compare Wonderlic scores from before the mid 1990's to those after that period because player preparation and the importance coaches and GM's put on the score has changed so much. History shows us that it's non-comparable data. So while many people recount numbers from the 1980's, those numbers mean different things then they would in today's NFL.

NFL Averages:

So a quick review of the average scores for each position, data is from Wikipedia and a great Wonderlic blog:

- Offensive tackle: 27
- Center: 26
- Quarterback: 24
- Guard: 23
- Tight end: 22
- Safety: 19
- Linebacker: 19
- Halfback: 18
- Cornerback: 18
- Wide receiver: 17
- Defensive tackle: 17
- Fullback: 17
- Defensive end: 17

So as you can see, offensive lineman and quarterbacks are often the ones who score the highest, possibly because they are thought to have the most cerebral duties. That would also explain why defensive "quarterbacks" like safeties and linebackers score the highest for defensive players. But the purpose of this post isn't to compare all positions and why some score higher then others, so mostly just note that quarterbacks average 24 on the Wonderlic as of the 2009 draft.

The Research:

The Setup:

Now as I said early, there are countless blog entries about the Wonderlic and it's relation to quarterbacks, the most well known formula is the 26-27-60, which says if a player scores at least 26 on his Wonderlic, starts at least 27 games, and completes 60% of his passes, he has a high likelihood of being successful in the NFL. And while the formula is hardly perfect, it's the most accurate way to date in predicting success, being correct 76% of the time, according to a few sources. And while this post isn't intended to support or refute this formula, it just needed to be noted.

So among all the swirling, often unsupported data, known as the internet, I couldn't find any real research pointing at how the Wonderlic affects current NFL players, and whether there is a trend. So since there was no data, I had to find it, which I did. What I wanted to look at was two things, NFL starters drafted after 2000, as well as starters who may have been drafted prior to 2000, but started for a team this past decade. Now it should be noted that scores for a few players cannot be found or do not exist, Kurt Warner for example, because they didn't take it. I will also be looking at playoff quarterbacks, as well as All-Pro and Pro Bowl awards. I will be breaking things up by the average score of 24, and comparing the upper half and lower half of the scale.

The Data:

I will be doing this in a bullet point for lack of a better presentation tool.

- Since 2000, the Super Bowl winning quarterback scored an average of 30, and of all Super Bowl quarterbacks since 2000, the average score was 27, with only one being below the average of 24 (Donovan McNabb, who scored a 14).

- Starters in the NFL drafted since 2000 who've scored 24 or less are Henne, Campbell, Young, Garrard and Vick. Of those, only Vick (3), Garrard (1) and Young (2) have earned Pro Bowl spots, and none have earned an All-Pro award. Of these quarterbacks, none outside of Vick are considered great quarterbacks, and Vick was a serious question mark as a quarterback prior to the 2010 season.

- Of the top 10 Wonderlic scores for starters in 2010, six have at least one Pro Bowl (60%), and five Super Bowl rings. Of the top 15 scores, you have nine Pro Bowls (60%), and eight Super Bowl rings. Of all starters who scored above 24, there were 14 present or past Pro Bowlers, and nine Super Bowl rings. Compare that to the bottom 10 starters in Wonderlic scores, you have four Pro Bowlers, none of which made the Pro Bowl in 2010.

- The average playoff QB in 2010 scored 28, excluding Cassel, whose scores are unknown, with only one, Vick, who scored below 25.

- Average winning team’s QB Wonderlic score: 29

- Average losing team’s QB Wonderlic score: 26

- Average .500 team’s QB Wonderlic score: 19

- Pro Bowls awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic less than 24 since 2000: 29

- Pro Bowls awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic greater than 24 since 2000: 55

- All Pros awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic less than 24 since 2000: 6

- All Pros awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic greater than 24 since 2000: 15

- Pro Bowls awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic less than 24 since 2005: 11

- Pro Bowls awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic greater than 24 since 2005: 32

- All Pros awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic less than 24 since 2005: 0

- All Pros awarded to QB’s with a Wonderlic greater than 24 since 2005: 11

Data Summery:

So lets take a look at this, there are some very obvious things. The first is that as the past decade moved forward, quarterbacks who were the best in the league, the All-Pros, has high Wonderlic scores. There have been no All-Pros who scored below 24 since 2005, and the ratio of Pro Bowlers is three to one after 2005, rather then just two to one for 2000 onward. One other huge one is the staggering trend in terms of quarterbacks drafted since 2000 and their success based on Wonderlic scores, with no All-Pro's and only a handful of Pro Bowls.

It can also be noted that winning teams have quarterbacks with higher Wonderlic scores, scoring about 3 points higher on the test then their losing record counterparts. The 8-8 Wonderlic score is a bit strange because there was only two .500 team in 2010, the Raiders and Jaguars, who had Garrard, who scored a 14, and Jason Campbell, who scored a 23, at quarterback.

We also see an even larger trend in terms of playoff and Super Bowl teams, with playoff teams quarterbacks scoring four points above the average, and Super Bowl teams quarterbacks scoring six points above the average. Add in only one quarterback has lead a Super Bowl team since 2000 with a Wonderlic below 24, and that was Donovan McNabb.


So after doing all this research, while there are exceptions, like there always is, Wonderlic score since 2000, and even more so since 2005, has tied with team (playoffs and Super Bowls) and player success (All-Pros and Pro Bowls). This is very apparent and obvious, and when taken in the context of the current NFL draft and Combine system, makes sense.

Now as I said before, there are always exceptions for a rule, but that doesn't negate the rule. A rule may have exceptions but still be a rule, and I maintain that a quarterback with a score of 24 or higher on the Wonderlic will be more likely to succeed in the NFL then a quarterback who scores below 24.

Now there might not be a direct connection, I'm not a psychologist or sports mind person, but I will say this, there is a connection between a quarterback's Wonderlic score and his and his teams success. Now as I keep saying, this isn't a fast rule, without exceptions, Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick aren't the best quarterbacks in the league, and I'm not saying their Wonderlic says they should be, I'm saying that the past decade has showed us that a quarterback with a higher score is MORE LIKELY TO SUCCEED THEN A QUARTERBACK WHO HAS A LOWER SCORE. So while not a hard rule, it's pretty solid.

So hopefully this is educational, and while hardly a perfect study all positions, which I'd love to do but I can't, I hope it did give some information on a study I did on the relationship between success, both team and personally, and Wonderlic scores.



This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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