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The NFL Combine Is Coming, And For Better Or Worse, The Wonderlic Test Comes With It

The intelligence-measuring tool is part of the evaluation of all prospects at the combine, but no one really knows just how useful it is.

NFL Combine - Day 3
It’s not all just running, jumping, and measurements (oh, hi, Zeke).
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The next big event of the NFL calendar is the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, held this year from February 28th through March 6th. The invited prospects will be measured, put through various drills and tests, and will interview with coaches and scouts from all the NFL teams. And all the participants will also sit down and take the Wonderlic Test to attempt to provide some measure of their intelligence.

There is a good bit of doubt as to just how valuable those test results are, but the league persists in using them, largely because it is one of the few ways to try and measure intangibles. The Dallas Cowboys saw just how important that was with the success of Dak Prescott. He showed some of his physical skills before he was drafted, but a huge factor in his success as a rookie starter was his impressive grasp of the Dallas offense and the leadership he exhibited from early on in training camp. The Wonderlic did not really point the way to that, as he was just about average for NFL quarterbacks with a 25, according to this article from the Dallas Morning News website (one point above the overall average). But with the way the league is looking at his rookie year, the teams are going to be using every measure they can to try and find another hidden gem like he was (good luck with that).

What exactly is the Wonderlic? Our own One Cool Customer did a piece about it in 2012, and I’ll steal quote his explanation.

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.

If you would like to find out how you’d do on the test, you can go to this site, Wonderlictestsample.com and take either a 10 question sample or a full 50 question practice test.

Micheal Hall and Fred Jordan from that website reached out to us, and discussed the test and its impact on the NFL with me.

There is no real consensus on how the test scores correlate to success on the field. A variety of studies have come to varying conclusions, from no correlation at all to it being a good predictor. But there is no sign that the NFL is going to quit using it.

The test results are supposed to be confidential, but as the article about the Cowboys shows, they are commonly leaked out. Fred was unsure about just how this always seems to happen, but he lists the usual suspects.

I know that journalists and reporters are typically the ones who leak the scores. It makes sense that there is an incentive to leak scores as the websites who publish them get cited by other sports websites and bloggers. Apparently Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was the one who somehow got his hands on a large number of Wonderlic scores of popular draft picks, which he published to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel site.

I do not know the means or methods of how to get these scores, so whether they ask players directly, peek over the shoulder of GMs, etc would all be speculative. I also haven't ever found any info on that from other sources.

There is also a debate as to whether or not certain scores are accurate or not. Because they don't come from the Wonderlic organization, the NFL or NFL teams there is no real way to prove that any of these leaked scores are authentic. So pretty much all studies done on the Wonderlic and the NFL have to come with that caveat.

While many of the scores always seem to get out at some point, the teams are not nearly so forthcoming about how they actually use the test.

I personally have no idea. Both the NFL and GMs are really quiet and generic when it comes to talking about the Wonderlic and what it means to them (I guess that's true for most stats that come out of the Combine). They typically refer to the test as "another tool in the toolbox" or something along those lines.

Some teams like the Cleveland Browns are supposedly becoming more analytical, but I don't know if that means they're putting higher importance on the Wonderlic or not.

So we are left with only anecdotal evidence about the test, and can see many examples of players who do poorly and still go on to be very good at the game, and others who score very highly and never make much of a splash. But it was interesting to note in the article linked earlier that Ezekiel Elliott reportedly scored a 32, which is quite high, especially for a running back. Zeke has an image as a fun-loving party guy, but he clearly is quite sharp as well, which may be at least a factor in how he performs. It would at least hint at an ability to quickly read and understand what a defense is doing, something he demonstrated fully in his league-leading season running the ball.

A few other scores from current and past Cowboys (again from the DMN article) that might interest you:

Tony Romo: 37

Quincy Carter: 30

Troy Aikman: 29

Jason Garrett: 36

Travis Frederick: 34

Byron Jones: 33

Dez Bryant: 16

Morris Claiborne: 4 (he has always claimed he did not take the test seriously and did not really try)

It may be meaningful, or it may not. But one thing about it is that it is one thing NFL prospects do that anyone can also try their hand at, which is kind of fun (if you don’t have a really, really low score, of course).

But it will be something that will almost certainly be discussed in the coming weeks, so at least you have a little background to use in understanding things and perhaps taking it all with a grain of salt.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB