Cold Hard Football Facts: The unreliability of the Wonderlic test
Before Super Bowl XIII, Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson proclaimed that Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw couldn't "spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a'."
Bradshaw has since said of Henderson's comments, "It's football, not rocket science."
In Bradshaw's case, that might be a good thing. Henderson may have been onto something when picking on Bradshaw's intelligence. But is Bradshaw correct when he counters that intelligence doesn't matter in football?
Enter the Wonderlic test -- the intelligence test given to almost all draft eligible players. Through the years, the Wonderlic has provided plenty of fodder for pre-draft discussion -- mostly resulting from an NFL-obsessed nation that clings to any and all offseason information.
But correlation between the Wonderlic and performance at the next level has been hard to achieve. In fact, depending on this test of intelligence to predict future NFL success is not very smart.
With the NFL draft around the corner, here's a look at the Wonderlic scores of some prominent quarterbacks over the years.
The aforementioned Bradshaw scored 16 out of 50 on the test, well below the average of 24 for an NFL quarterback.
For the record, a score of 10 indicates that a person is literate -- which means that Bradshaw could not only spell "cat" but also could likely master several other three-, four- and even five-letter words.
Bradshaw is not the only successful NFL quarterback to bomb on the Wonderlic test. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Jim Kelly each scored 15. Former NFL stars Steve McNair (15), Randall Cunningham (15) and Daunte Culpepper (18) each scored well below the NFL average for a quarterback.
Looking at it from a different point of view, many first-round busts scored very high on the Wonderlic test. Alex Smith scored a 40 -- a lofty score on the test sheet that stands in inverse proportion to his poor statistical scores on the football field.
Rex Grossman (29), Kyle Boller (27), Kelly Stouffer (27) and Ryan Leaf (27) -- the poster boy for first-round draft busts -- all bombed in the NFL despite above-average intelligence, at least according to the Wonderlic. In the case of Leaf, its seems the test certainly fails to measure what they like to call emotional intelligence.
Bradshaw, with his 16 Wonderlic and four Super Bowl rings, can laugh heartily at all those scores.
On the other hand, in hindsight, some first-round busts could have been predicted by their low Wonderlic scores.
Jeff George (10) and Vince Young (15) were first-round busts with well below-average Wonderlic scores. And, not to pile on, but most fans can identify a moment or two where each of these players did poor imitations of Stephen Hawking.
Heath Shuler got a 16 and famously flamed out in Washington.
Of course, Shuler is now a U.S. Congressman representing the 11th District in North Carolina. In an attempt to provide for others what he himself apparently does not have, he recently supported a budget allocating $47 billion to education.
Trent Dilfer (22) and Tim Couch (22) also scored below average on the Wonderlic.
Another factor when analyzing the value of the Wonderlic is the scores for players who have outperformed expectations based on where they were originally drafted.
The most common example is Tom Brady -- a sixth-round pick who's become an NFL star and is widely considered the greatest "value" draft pick in history. He scored a 33 on the Wonderlic, well above average.
Another example is Tony Romo -- completely ignored on draft day despite his lofty 37 on the test. He's had a very prolific, if as of yet unfulfilled, NFL career.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is an interesting case, if only because he went to Harvard, a fact which it seems everybody must mention every time his name comes up. Well, he's rumored to have scored anywhere between a 38 and a perfect 50 on the test, with 48 being the most commonly reported score. He, too, has succeeded in the NFL beyond expectations. He's not a star, of course. But he is a seventh-round pick who's lasted six NFL seasons and has been a starting quarterback for most of the past three years.
David Garrard is an exception to many trends: he has outperformed his original draft status, despite scoring only a 14 on the Wonderlic. Scores aren't available for Jake Delhomme, Kurt Warner or Matt Cassel -- three more players who succeeded well beyond draft-day expectations.
Other quarterbacks who can be considered to have overachieved to some degree include J.T. O'Sullivan (35), Sage Rosenfels (32), Josh McCown (30) and Chris Weinke (29). All scored well above average on the Wonderlic. Derek Anderson and A.J. Feeley have also outplayed their draft statuses despite identical 19s on their Wonderlics.
And, let's not forget that a player doesn't have to become a star to outperform his draft status... players picked after the fourth or fifth round are usually out of the league within a couple of years. So that's a whole lot of NFL quarterbacks in recent years who had the smarts, as measured by the Wonderlic, to outlast guys who were more highly thought of physically.
But smarts are not everything, as the Bradshaw example proved.
Consider that, among players with available data, only seven scored 40 or better on the Wonderlic: Darrell Hackney (40), Alex Smith (40), Bruce Eugene (41), Drew Henson (42), Jason Maas (43) and Fitzpatrick (48) -- not exactly Canton material.
Among schools that had at least four players analyzed, Stanford products did the best, with an average score of 31.5.
These schools round out the top 10: Oregon (28.6), Michigan (28), BYU (27), Virginia and Ohio State (both 26.5), Washington (26.4), Notre Dame (25.25), USC (24.6) and LSU (24.5).
The three schools with the lowest average Wonderlic score were Tennessee (18.8), Miami (18.2) and Kansas State (17).
Bottom line: the Wonderlic makes for a nice conversation piece. But like everything involved with the draft, it's a very inexact science with little bearing on future NFL success.