Study Reveals NFL Players with Low Wonderlic Scores More Likely to Be Arrested

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2016

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell opens up the last day of the 2015 NFL Draft, Saturday, May 2, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

In a new NFL draft-related study released Tuesday, it was revealed there may be a correlation between players scoring poorly on the Wonderlic test and running into off-field issues that result in an arrest. 

According to ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, a group of college professors studied draft data from 2002 to 2003 and found that those who score below the mean on the Wonderlic are twice as likely to get arrested as those who score above it.

Per Seifert, University of Georgia associate professor Brian Hoffman believes there is some credence to the findings, but he also feels as though teams must do their due diligence on every prospect regardless:

The effects are relatively small. But it's important here because when making multimillion-dollar decisions, a small effect can be very meaningful. A player's getting a four-game suspension can be a big deal, competitively and financially.


If I were a decision-maker, I wouldn't view getting into trouble as a zero-sum game. You check off that they've been in trouble and know what that has meant for others on a percentage basis. And then there's a factor that would make the likelihood a little worse: If they score lower on the Wonderlic. Really, that tells you there's even more work to do there.

ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles director of pro personnel Louis Riddick also chimed in on the results and opined that numbers cannot accurately predict whether a player will run into off-field problems, according to Seifert:

Everyone is looking for ways to predict future performance, whether it is through three-cone tests, shuttle drills or anything else. Then they assume that these guys have it figured out once you get them, and they don't. That's where the focus should be, helping them be better people and players, rather than hiring a psychologist to tell you which players are more or less likely to get arrested.

Because the reality is, you just don't know, and you can't know when it comes to human nature. It's so hard. You can talk to everyone, from the friends to the coaches to the gas-station attendants, and so many times you're literally just holding on and hoping you've done your best evaluation. Human development off the field is something that is lagging in this league and has to be ramped up and taken more seriously.

While the sample size is small and the study focuses solely on arrests and not other potential character issues, it could prove to be of some use to NFL teams.

Early-round draft picks require massive financial commitments from franchises, so it is paramount they work out since mistakes can set teams back for years.

Off-field failures are a surefire way to derail a promising career, and while some prospects enter the league with a history of such issues, teams are often willing to take a chance on their talent alone.

The Wonderlic study isn't likely to change that approach, but with teams obsessing over athletic data compiled at the NFL Scouting Combine, it isn't unreasonable to think that data predicting the likelihood of character shortcomings could become commonplace moving forward.

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.