The Wonderlic Test: why is it a thing? That is the thought that is constantly swirling around my head now that we’re in NFL combine season. NFL hopefuls go through all sorts of physical tests to prove their value to teams and I tune in to watch them unfold because I’m a student of the game. I know how important these tests are for NFL experts working against the clock to create mock draft version 87. Also, the tests make me laugh. A lot. I mean, who doesn’t want to see:
“Guy being a frog”
And my personal favorite*, “run like Godzilla is behind you”
All these exercises prove the athlete is, well, athletic, but they do not prove the athlete’s worth on a football field. That becomes apparent with drills like the three-cone drill, vertical leap, and “show me how strong you really are” portion of the day. Coaches could also just skip the combine to watch actual game film to understand if a player could fit into their scheme, but what do I know.
*Seriously though, how often does the average NFL player run straight down the field as fast as possible? The answer is very rarely, unless you’re one of the seven wideouts below. It’s such a waste of time #hottakesonlySource
But my big question is not, “what will Shaquem Griffin’s 40 time be?” Instead, I wonder why the NFL includes the Wonderlic test in the Combine to determine an athlete’s intelligence. It is the only portion of this mating ritual between athletes and teams that focuses on brain instead of brawn. It must be pretty well established, vetted and respected. Right?
Creation Of The Wonderlic Test
The Wonderlic test was created by, not too surprisingly, Eldon F. Wonderlic in the 1930s. According to wiseGEEK the goal of the test is,
“…not necessarily to assign an actual intelligence quotient or IQ number to test takers. Instead, it provides some idea of an applicant’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses relative to the requirements of a specific job or assignment”.
Overall, the goal hasn’t changed much today. Wonderlic still advertises that the WPT:
Implementing The Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT)
The Wonderlic test was introduced to the NFL by Tom Landry in the 1970s when he was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Landry was a big believer in the test predicting player performance and organized his draft boards accordingly. Other NFL executives and teams soon followed suit since Landry was a legend in his own time. Because of this, the Wonderlic became the test of choice for the entire NFL.
But the test is not just used to determine if a player will make it in sports. After some intense research (Googling), I came upon the official site of Wonderlic and found current titans of industry that use the test to make their hiring decisions:
You’re telling me these guys helped Subway AND Wayne State? It’s no wonder the NFL still uses their test as the primary method to determine if a prospect has the mental makeup to play in the NFL! You need to use what worked for Subway when they vetted Jared, right?
Before I go any further, I need you to know the mascot of Wayne State is apparently a W. Yes, the letter. I also found the tryout information to become The W from 2014 and no, they did not use the Wonderlic to determine who was worthy of being the next W. Also, I would’ve crushed that tryout.
What Is The Test Like?
I took the full 50 question version to understand the experience and relive the terrors of taking the SAT & ACT. The test contains English, reading, math, and logic problems that increase in difficulty as the test goes on. Each question is worth 1 point and an average score is 20 points.
Similar to the ACT there is no penalty for getting a question incorrect, but in a fun twist the test does include a 12 minute time limit. Nothing like realizing you don’t remember how to do long division while a clock ticks away. What fun!
When it comes to the test’s accuracy it pegged me as an above average participant, so it must be 100% accurate. I also wish I could’ve taken this test instead of the ACT & SAT when applying for colleges.
Feel free to take a free WPT test here.
Does The Test Really Matter?
Being such a well known test, the Wonderlic has undergone its fair share of scrutiny. Unfortunately for Eldon, the test has not held up well. According to a 2009 study by Brian D. Lyons , Brian J. Hoffman & John W. Michel, in which they studied a total of 762 NFL players across three draft classes,
“results indicated that [WPT scores were] unrelated to future NFL performance…and the number of games started in the NFL.”
Translation: The Wonderlic doesn’t mean shit. This is great news for running backs, because after digging into the average scores for 618 NFL players across 9 positions, it wasn’t looking great for our fleet-footed friends. Tough break for tight ends, though.
To further prove the lack of correlation between success in the NFL and your score on the Wonderlic, take a look at this post on Medium. In it, a data scientist took the time to compare the Wonderlic scores by Quaterbacks and their passer rating. Not too surprisingly, a correlation is hard to find and when you do notice one it is a minuscule correlation of .18.
Wonderlic Impacting Draft Stock
Even though the WPT is a poor indicator of NFL success, it can still negatively impact a player’s draft stock. And no, I’m not just talking about guys who score in the single digits so coaches have to wonder if they know how to tie their shoes, let alone learn a playbook. What I was shocked to learn is that players who score too high on the WPT are red flagged by teams. According to Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com,
“Scoring too high can be as much of a problem as scoring too low. Football coaches want to command the locker room. Being smarter than the individual players makes that easier. Having a guy in the locker room who may be smarter than every member of the coaching staff can be viewed as a problem – or at a minimum as a threat to the egos of the men who hope to be able when necessary to outsmart the players, especially when trying in some way to manipulate them.”
Overall the Wonderlic is nothing but a relic of the past. It doesn’t give teams a positive correlation to work from, negatively impacts players on both ends of the score spectrum and should be scrapped. I understand that it was a valuable data point used by coaches to justify their draft strategy to hesitant GMs and owners decades ago, but with such drastic advancements in stats and tests these days the Wonderlic needs to go.
With so much publicity about all things NFL, I am shocked no other test company has stepped in to take the place of the WPT. Until then the test will have to remain a box to check off for prospects. On the bright side, at least we can bet on it.
- / 2 years ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.