The combine starts in exactly ten days, on Feb. 22. Right off the bat, each one of the 328 draft-eligible prospects invited to this year's combine will be subjected to the toughest test they'll face at the combine: the Wonderlic Test, or what the NFL euphemistically likes to call the 'psych test'.
The Wonderlic test is a fifty question, twelve minute test designed to measure a person's ability to learn and solve problems. It uses open response and multiple choice questions which increase in difficulty as the test progresses. The test is best known though its use in the NFL, but it is broadly used by employers across many industries.
The test is explained in detail here and you can do a 20-question sample test here. Better yet, you can try your hand at a timed test that gives you three minutes and 36 seconds to answer 15 questions. It's not quite the same thing as the NFL prospects will face, but it'll give you a good idea of what the test is about. Watch yourself break out in a cold sweat when the clock ticks down to one minute and you still have more than half the questions to go. After the break, find out what the Wonderlic results mean.
The Wonderlic score is calculated as the number of correct answers given to the 50 questions within the allotted time frame. The highest score is therefore obviously a 50, while a score of 20 is considered an average score. The Wonderlic score is sometimes used to approximate an intelligence quotient, or IQ, by multiplying the Wonderlic score by two and then adding 60:
IQ = (Wonderlic Score * 2) + 60
The average score for an NFL player (regardless of position) is reportedly 20. Very broadly, a score over 30 suggests a superior intelligence, 20 is about average (and is roughly equivalent to an IQ of 100). 15 is the equivalent of an unskilled worker, while anything below 10 is an indication of a literacy problem or learning disability.
In Paul Zimmerman's book titled, "The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football" he listed the average Wonderlic scores by position. The table below summarizes those values and compares them to average scores from various professions.
|Football Position||Test Score||Regular Profession|
|Tight End||22||Bank Teller|
|Wide Receiver||17||Security Guard|
As much fun as it can be to mock players with low scores and marvel at (or perhaps mock as well) players with high scores, it is important to note that there is no conclusive evidence showing that a high Wonderlic score positively correlates with success on the football field. The Wonderlic is just one aspect of the overall evaluation process. What NFL teams are ultimately looking for is football intelligence - how quickly a player can read, react and make plays on the field. But the fastest player will be of little use to his team if he can't learn the playbook.
What the Wonderlic can do is match teaching and training methods to a player's mental ability. A player with a lower Wonderlic score may need to learn the playbook differently than a player with a higher score. A player with a higher score may be better at making quick decisions during contingencies - but he may be just as likely to overthink those situations and be at a disadvantage to a lower-scoring but more instinctive player.
Like with any metric, it's easy to discount the Wonderlic by derisively pointing out that players like Dan Marino (16 Wonderlic score) had a great career despite a low score or that a player like Ryan Fitzpatrick (48 Wonderlic score) hasn't amounted to much in the NFL so far. But if you're a team that values a player’s ability to think and process information quickly, you're watching these results carefully. If the NFL truly thought the test is meaningless, they would have stopped funding and administering it a long time ago.
Playbooks get more complicated every year. Just about any GM or scout will tell you that QBs have to be smarter than they were 10 years ago, let alone 20. And the increasing complexity of NFL offenses and defenses also means more pressure on all the other players and their ability to learn and adapt quicker. And the prospects know this as well. When they enroll in Combine-preparation facilities like the IMG Institute in Bradenton, they're not just working on their 40 times and bench press abilities, they take Mental Conditioning courses to prepare them for the Wonderlic at the Combine.
It's long been popular among fans and pundits to discount the Wonderlic scores. And yes, it is not directly correlated to onfield success. But it can be invaluable in helping a team prepare a player to succeed on the field.
When my son played soccer as a 6-year old, there were two types of kids playing. Kids that wore shoes with shoelaces and kids that couldn't tie their shoes and therefore wore shoes with velcro straps. The Wonderlic tells you which players may need the equivalent of shoes with velcro straps.