2012 NFL Draft: The Real Value of the Wonderlic Exam

Field Yates@FieldYatesCorrespondent IIIApril 6, 2012

Claiborne, a standout at LSU, is projected as a top 5 pick in the NFL draft.
Claiborne, a standout at LSU, is projected as a top 5 pick in the NFL draft.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Less than three weeks from now, the first round of the NFL draft will be in the books, and a new chapter will start in the lives of prized prospects such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and, yes, Morris Claiborne.

Claiborne’s future in the NFL has come into focus of late, notably because of a leaked report of him scoring a four on the Wonderlic test—a learning and problem solving exam that most every draft hopeful takes leading up to the event.

The issues in play stem further than just the result itself as many have called into question the integrity of the source who handed the information off to members of the media. What caused the grandest firestorm of backlash, however, is the fact that multiple outlets have used Claiborne’s low-score as an opportunity to poke fun at his supposed lack of intelligence.

As it turns out, Claiborne has dealt with a learning disorder throughout his time as a collegian, which presumably helps to explain his performance on the test. 

There’s enough media already out there discussing the responsibilities—both professional and moral—involved with reporting a test score, but I’m not here to dig deeper into that.

Rather, I'm here to help us understand the actual value of a Wonderlic score—high or low.

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I’ve been there before. From 2009 to 2011, I worked with the Kansas Ciy Chiefs, the bulk of which was spent on the scouting staff. I understand the role of a Wonderlic test, just like I, and most others, understand the value of a 40-yard dash time or the number of reps of 225 pounds a player can bench.

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino was once ridiculed for scoring a 16 on the Wonderlic.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino was once ridiculed for scoring a 16 on the Wonderlic.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

What’s been lost in all of this—amidst an understandably passionate debate—is what the test truly means to NFL teams.

The Wonderlic has long been a tool that no one has quite been able to encapsulate the merits of in one breath, but is generally accepted as a reliable and accurate measure of what it purports to measure—learning and problem solving.

Nowhere in the test guidelines does it reference ability to read blitzes, anticipate route concepts or decipher blocking schemes. It does, however, lend a hand in gauging the ability of a player to—as he is intended to do—learn and problem solve.

To say that such is irrelevant in football is to discredit the comprehensive microscope a good scout views prospects from. If an individual demonstrates an inability to learn at a level that is on par with what a team expects of him, it’s natural to understand the hesitation a team would express in acquiring or drafting said player.

Look at Chad Ochocinco. He remains one of the most physically talented receivers on New England’s roster, but an inability to process the intricacies of the Patriots’ offense rendered him nearly worthless in 2011.

Conversely, to assume that a low score on a Wonderlic exam entirely diminishes the ability of an individual to succeed at the NFL level is to once again discredit the scout’s microscope. Innumerable players have “overcome” poor scores to thrive as professionals, and by all accounts, Claiborne will do the same. 

Just like a near-perfect score doesn’t equate to guaranteed success, a far-from-perfect score does not signal impending failure.

Point is, and this is what has been lost in the recent Claiborne headlines, the Wonderlic exam will always be a part of the draft equation, at least until a better metric is derived to replace it. 

The premium each organization places on a particular Wonderlic score will inevitably vary—consensus is a rarity in personnel evaluation.

But what will always remain true is that every available tool to measure a player’s ability—the Wonderlic, 40-yard dash, bench press and most importantly his film—is a piece of the draft puzzle. 

That is something we should all learn to agree on.