Ray's Replies: Breaking down the Wonderlic

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Ray's Replies: Breaking down the Wonderlic
February 21, 2013, 9:00 am
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Q. With the NFL scouting combine coming up, I was thinking about the Wonderlic test. I’ve heard so much about it but I still don’t know what it is. I’ve also heard some people say it has no validity whatsoever. I’m just wondering if you could explain what it is and give me your opinion on how useful -- or not useful -- it is.

--Scott S.
Cherry Hill, N.J.

A. The Wonderlic test dates back to the 1930s. It was created as a means to evaluate candidates for jobs in business. It was not created as a measuring stick for football players but that’s how it is viewed by many people because they never heard of the Wonderlic in any other context.

The test consists of 50 questions with a 12-minute time limit. It is not like some standardized tests, which ask questions about history or literature. The Wonderlic test is more about comprehension and puzzle solving. A sample question: “If rope is selling for 20 cents for two feet, how many feet can you buy for $15?”

What does that have to do with football?

Good question.

The Wonderlic doesn’t measure IQ and it doesn’t reveal a lot about your educational background. It is more about your ability to think through a problem. There is also the matter of pressure, working against the clock, trying to answer all the questions before time runs out. Most people do not finish the full test.

Some media members have taken the test (I never have). Most agreed the questions are not that difficult but, for the players, knowing how much is riding on everything they do at the combine, it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

In all the years of testing, only one player -- Pat McInally, a receiver and punter from Harvard -- has scored a perfect 50. McInally was selected in the fifth round of the 1975 draft by Cincinnati and played 10 seasons in the NFL. Another Harvard man, Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, completed the test in nine minutes and scored a 48.

A high Wonderlic score was another factor in Mike Mamula’s dramatic rise in the 1995 draft. In addition to running a fast 40-yard dash, Mamula aced the Wonderlic, reportedly scoring a 49. What did it mean? As it turned out, not a lot. He played five seasons with the Eagles and finished with fewer sacks (31.5) than Wonderlic points.

There was a better correlation with Brian Westbrook. The Villanova star had the highest Wonderlic score among the running backs at the 2002 combine. That was one reason why Andy Reid felt confident in drafting Westbrook in the third round: he wanted a back who was smart enough to learn multiple positions in his offense. Westbrook could do that and it made him one of the most versatile weapons in the league.

To me, the Wonderlic is just one more piece of the puzzle in evaluating a player. I take it all -- the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, the bench press, the Wonderlic -- and use it to fill in any gaps that are left after studying the game tape. That’s still the most important part of the evaluation process -- seeing how a player actually plays -- but the combine tests, the individual workouts, the one-on-one interviews help complete the profile.

What does a low Wonderlic score mean? It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Two years ago, LSU’s Patrick Peterson scored a nine, lowest among all cornerbacks. Arizona didn’t care. The Cardinals drafted him in the first round and Peterson is now one of the league’s rising stars.

That same year, Curtis Marsh scored a 30, tied for second among cornerbacks. Marsh has been with the Eagles for two seasons and done zilch.

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