NFL Wonderlic Test: Highest Scores in History and How to Take Sample TestFebruary 20, 2015
Analyzing potential NFL draft prospects is always an inexact science as teams and NFL fans as a whole try to equate both collegiate performance and a player's measurable skills to what a player can do at the next level.
Perhaps no one exercise is more imprecise than the Wonderlic test.
If you're curious as to what kind of questions populate the infamous Wonderlic test, ESPN.com's Page 2 posted a sample test years ago, while Wonderlic itself also provided 12 questions similar to the ones future draftees will encounter.
Video game fans will remember that Madden NFL 06 featured something resembling the Wonderlic test in its "Superstar Mode." Users needed to answer 20 questions in two minutes, and the results had a quantifiable impact on your player's ratings.
The actual test itself involves answering 50 questions in 12 minutes.
Ideally, the Wonderlic test is designed to test a player's problem-solving skills in a more mentally taxing situation. And since everybody takes the test, teams get standardized results, thus providing what should be solid side-by-side comparisons between two or more players.
In practice, the test is far from any sort of dependable indicator of future performance.
Sports Illustrated pointed out that Terry Bradshaw—a Hall of Famer and winner of four Super Bowls—scored only a 16 out of 50. He's far from an isolated case:
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.
And that's just from one position.
Just as a low score doesn't doom somebody to failure, placing high on the Wonderlic by no means guarantees one will have a legendary NFL career.
Pat McInally, a punter for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976 to 1985, scored the highest Wonderlic score in history—a perfect 50. Yet, he argued in a 2006 interview with Rivals' Bob McClellan that his high score might have actually hurt his draft stock.
"Coaches and front-office guys don't like extremes one way or the other, but particularly not on the high side," McInally said. "I think they think guys who are intelligent will challenge authority too much."
Defensive end Mike Mamula is believed to own the second-highest Wonderlic score—49. The former Boston College star has become one of the biggest cautionary tales of the scouting combine after what was a largely underwhelming career with the Philadelphia Eagles
New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson and Houston Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick are both owners of an impressive 48 in the Wonderlic. They've enjoyed productive NFL careers, but nothing to write home about.
In a 2012 interview with the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian (via Pro Football Talk's Evan Silva), Watson was critical about the Wonderlic test's utility in terms of grading a player's potential:
Does a higher Wonderlic mean you’ll perform better on the field? It might, or it might not. A person’s football ability might be totally different than their ability to score high on an aptitude test.
I mean, I understand why the test is there. They want to have some type of standardized benchmark. They want to compare, and keep everyone on the same level. But when you look at it, a Wonderlic score doesn’t have as much to do with football as your film does in college and your body of work.
In April 2014, Austin Tymins and Andrew Fraga of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective attempted to determine whether there's any sort of correlation between Wonderlic scores and a quarterback's performance.
Quarterback is arguably the most analytical position on the field, so if any sort of link exists, it would surely be there.
The two analyzed 50 different QBs going back to 2007, and here's what they discovered:
|ANet Yards Per Attempt||.0535|
|Interception Rate Per Attempt||-.1944|
|Harvard Sports Analysis Collective|
Regarding the results, Tymins and Fraga wrote:
Not a single variable tested had a correlation above .2 (or below -.2), suggesting a minimal or very weak correlation between quarterbacks’ Wonderlic scores and the other variables at best.
Furthermore, the results of the regressions we ran tell a similar story. After individually regressing QBR, Sack Percentage, Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, Passer Rating, and Interception Rate Per Attempt on the corresponding Wonderlic scores, we did not find a single relationship that proved to be statistically significant at the 5% level, and most are not even close. That is, a quarterback’s score on the Wonderlic Test does not serve as a significant predictor for any of the metrics we analyzed.
They concluded that "scouts are better off watching tape, pro days, and the combine rather than reading test scores," which is what seemingly every critic of the Wonderlic continues to argue.
More often than not, the Wonderlic test is an exercise in confirmation bias. Scouts and teams will use the scores to embolden the perception they have regarding certain players, and for those whose results run contrary to their opinion of a player, they'll often argue the Wonderlic doesn't matter.
Somehow, the whole thing seems perfect in the dog and pony show that is the entire NFL draft process.