NFL Quarterback Wonderlic Scores Matter A Great Deal

Every year we have the same debate — do Wonderlic scores matter? It’s typically the debate that comes after — do forty times matter and do verticals matter and do heights and weights matter? That’s because the NFL made the poor decision not to release all Wonderlic scores at the combine. The result is these scores, unlike the physical combine data that is immediately released in late February, come out in a slow trickle as the NFL Draft nears.

If you’re not aware the Wonderlic is a 12 minute test featuring 50 questions that is scored on a scale from 1-50. If you’re interested in taking your own test you can do so here. 

While the Wonderlic isn’t perfect for all positions — no type of testing is — the Wonderlic 100% matters for quarterbacks. Indeed, the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL have posted an average Wonderlic score of 30.7 over the past generation of football. You can see all those quarterback Wonderlics below in a chart I put together.

So for anyone out there arguing that Wonderlic doesn’t matter at all, isn’t it wild that only quarterbacks who have scored in the top half or above of quarterback test takers have won Super Bowls? 

In general your Wonderlic score will correlate with your SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT or GRE scores. If you do well on those tests you will do well on the Wonderlic, if you do poorly, you will do poorly on the Wonderlic. If you’ve taken any of those tests, as I’m sure most of you have, you’re aware that the test isn’t perfect. For instance, standardized tests don’t measure work ethic, communication skills, creativity, emotional intelligence or many other factors that have a great deal to do with success in all manner of working life. But these tests are useful measures of intelligence. (And, no, they are not biased. Not unless you believe that Asian people, who consistently dominate standardized tests in this country, have taken the test industry hostage and are skewing all results to their benefit.) 

 

My position on the Wonderlic is simple, I believe that all combine measurement scores, physical and mental, are important tools that allow teams to compare individual prospects against each other and against several years of game film. Some teams use the combine data on the Wonderlic a great deal — the Patriots, for instance, consistently draft players that score highly on the Wonderlic — and other teams do not. 

That’s their choice as a talent evaluator. 

But I believe if we are going to praise players for how fast and strong they are, shouldn’t we also weigh that with their intelligence? I would release all physical and mental data from the combine instead of excluding the Wonderlic from public release. After all, shouldn’t everyone’s kids aspire to be like Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, a physical freak on the football field and in the classroom too, who is in line to be the number one overall pick? In fact, if anything, Garrett’s intelligence has been underplayed all three seasons at Texas A&M while everyone has focused on his physical gifts. We all know that former Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs is studying to be an astrophysicist. Well, Dobbs scored a 29 on the Wonderlic, Garrett got a 31. 

On the flip side, last week the fact that Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon all tested 12 or lower was publicly released. Those scores are so low that all three players are borderline illiterate. That is, assuming they did their best on the tests — and why wouldn’t you do your best if you’re interviewing for a job, if you don’t do your best that tells me a ton — all three guys posted lower test scores than your average janitor. 

That doesn’t mean that all three men will be unsuccessful at running back, although it does raise serious questions about how they managed to stay eligible for three or four seasons at Oklahoma, Florida State, and LSU. If these guys can barely read, how in the world did they complete college level course work without others doing the work for them? That’s why I believe academic fraud is rampant on college campus when it comes to big time athletics. 

Here’s a guide to the average scores that different professions post on the Wonderlic:

Systems analyst – 32
Chemist – 31
Electrical engineer – 30
Engineer – 29
Programmer – 29
Accountant – 28
Executive – 28
Reporter – 28
Teacher – 28
Copywriter – 27
Investment analyst – 27
Librarian – 27
Electronics technician – 26
Salesperson – 25
Secretary – 24
Dispatcher – 23

Bank teller – 22

Cashier – 21
Firefighter – 21
Clerical worker – 21
Machinist – 21
Receptionist – 21
Train conductor – 21
Craftsman – 18
Security guard – 17
Welder – 17
Warehouseman – 15
Janitor – 14

And here are the average scores of different NFL positions:

Offensive tackle – 26
Center – 25
Quarterback – 24
Guard – 23
Tight end – 22
Safety – 19
Linebacker – 19
Cornerback – 18
Wide receiver – 17
Fullback – 17
Halfback – 16

And here are the present Super Bowl winning quarterbacks currently active in the NFL and their Wonderlic scores:

Eli Manning 39

Aaron Rodgers 35

Tom Brady 33

Drew Brees 28

Russell Wilson 28

Joe Flacco 27

Ben Roethlisberger 25

This means the average Super Bowl winning quarterback scored a 30.7. (That’s not counting Brady’s 33 five times or Eli Manning’s 39 twice either. If you did that the average score bumps up to 32.3)

That’s statistically significant. 

How did this year’s 2017 quarterback prospects score?

Brad Kaaya 34

Nathan Peterman 33

Trevor Knight 30

Josh Dobbs 29

Deshone Kizer 28

CJ Beathard 26

Mitch Trubisky 25

Davis Webb 25

Patrick Mahomes 24

Chad Kelly 22 

Jerod Evans 21

Deshaun Watson 20

And how have current or recent NFL draft picks at quarterback scored? (Super Bowl winning quarterbacks are in bold).

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard 48

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri 42

Alex Smith, Utah 40

Carson Wentz, North Dakota State 40

Eli Manning, Ole Miss 39

Matthew Stafford, Georgia 38

Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois 37

Andrew Luck, Stanford 37

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada 37

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma 36

Jared Goff, Cal 36

Aaron Rodgers, Cal 35

Matt Leinart, USC 35

Christian Ponder, FSU 35

Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M 34

Tom Brady, Michigan 33

Steve Young, BYU 33

Marcus Mariota, Oregon 33

Matt Ryan, Boston College 32

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M 32

Philip Rivers, N.C. State 30

John Elway, Stanford 29

Andy Dalton, TCU 29

Peyton Manning, Tennessee 28

Drew Brees, Purdue 28

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin 28

E.J. Manuel, FSU 28

Blake Bortles, Central Florida 28

Joe Flacco, Delaware 27

Jameis Winston, Florida State 27

Josh Freeman, Kansas State 27

Mike Glennon, N.C. State 26

Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt 26

Carson Palmer, USC 26

Ryan Mallet, Arkansas 26

Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) 25

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State 25

Brock Osweiler, Colorado State 25

Robert Griffin III, Baylor 24

Geno Smith, West Virginia 24

JaMarcus Russell, LSU 24

Bret Favre, Southern Miss 22

Tim Tebow, Florida 22

Tim Couch, Kentucky 22

AJ McCarron, Alabama 22

Cam Newton, Auburn 21

Derek Carr, Fresno State 20

Jake Locker, Washington 20

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville 20

Mike Vick, Virginia Tech 20

Terry Bradshaw, Louisiana Tech 16

Heath Shuler, Tennessee 16

Dan Marino, Pittsburgh 16

Donovan McNabb, Syracuse 15

Jim Kelly, Miami 15

Vince Young, Texas 6 (although he reportedly retook it and scored a 15)

As you can see above Bradshaw, Marino, McNabb and Kelly all had successful NFL careers despite posting low Wonderlic scores. These quarterbacks are frequently cited to prove the Wonderlic doesn’t matter at all. But when you view their scores in context they seem to be statistical aberrations. In particular, McNabb is the only player drafted in the past twenty years who has posted a poor Wonderlic score and had a long NFL career as a starting quarterback.

And who knows what explains their low scores? Were they not prepared? Did they not care about taking the test? We simply don’t know. But it’s certainly not a legitimate argument to point to these guys as successes and say their success invalidates the test. Like the forty, the bench press, the shuttle and height measurements, the Wonderlic is simply a tool utilized to standardize quarterback comparison off the field itself.

Of course the Wonderlic isn’t perfect, but neither is putting football players in their underwear and having them do a variety of physical tests.  

The truth is this, there is no dispositive test that proves what will make a successful quarterback in the NFL. But the fact that Cam Newton and Derek Carr are the only successful NFL quarterbacks in the league right now with Wonderlic scores below 25 seems like a pretty significant data point to consider if you’re drafting a quarterback. 

Scoring high doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be a Super Bowl winner — hello, Ryan Fitzpatrick — but scoring low does make it significantly more likely that you won’t be one. 

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