Joe plays football. All football players wear pads. Therefore, Joe wears pads.
Is that true? False? Does anyone care? And who’s Joe?
Actually, here’s an even better question: If you get the answer to that and 49 other questions right in 12 minutes, does that have absolutely anything to do with how good of an NFL player you’re going to be?
The answer to that is “Probably not,” yet that’s the kind of exercise the NFL regularly puts thousands of prospects through every year. When they’re not running the 40, bench pressing or vertical jumping, NFL wannabes take the Wonderlic test – a test that essentially measures a person’s IQ. It was developed in the 1930s by Eldon F. Wonderlic. Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys began using it on prospects in the 1970s and the NFL has followed suit ever since.
But does it work? Does it matter? Well, only one NFL prospect has ever aced the test. Harvard’s Pat McInally, a former Bengals punter, reportedly scored a 50. Terry Bradshaw (16), Dan Marino (15) and Jim Kelly (15) didn’t reach 50 with their three tests combined, yet they are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sometimes a 39 will get you Eli Manning. Sometimes it gets you Brian Griese. A 22 could make you the biggest star in the NFL (Tim Tebow).
Yet the NFL keeps giving out the Wonderlic year after year and in some cases it even affects a player’s draft status, even though the evidence is strong that the number doesn’t matter at all. With that said, here are 10 notable scores over the years for you to review and decide for yourself about the Wonderlic test.
Who? Yeah. He was once the Big Ten’s rushing leader (1,388 yards for Iowa State in 1999), but he ended up spending a few years in the Canadian Football League. Who knows if his reportedly horrible Wonderlic score had anything to do with that. For years, though, this was considered the worst score of all time. A score of 20 is considered average. Running backs average around 17-19. A few people are said to have since equaled his rock-bottom score of 4.
The jury is still out on the third-overall pick of the 2006 draft, but given the fears about his intelligence in 2006 he was lucky to go that high. Many NFL people thought he was the most promising and exciting player in the draft, but a score that low (he reportedly later re-took the test and upped his score to 14) is alarming for a quarterback. Some, as you’ll see, have overcome their number. But an average score for an NFL quarterback is around 25. Most people who pay attention to the test want to see a quarterback in the 30s.
This test score wasn’t the only reason his stock plummeted in the first round of the 1983 draft, but it was part of the package that had scared off some of the quarterback-needy teams. The Dolphins weren’t frightened, though. And while they never won a Super Bowl with Marino, they did get 61,361 passing yards and 420 touchdowns out of him. Oh, and here’s another number bigger than his 15 on the Wonderlic: He played 17 seasons in the NFL.
There’s a famous story about Cowboys LB Hollywood Henderson taunting the Steelers quarterback before Super Bowl XIII saying he couldn’t “spell cat if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’.” What matters to Bradshaw, though, is that he can count to four – as in his four Super Bowl championship rings.
Most people consider 21-22 to be about an average score, and not just for an NFL player. Obviously there’s nothing average about Tebow who became something of a sensation – a cult-hero, even – during his remarkable run as the Broncos’ starting quarterback this past season. He was hailed for his ability to lead and his remarkable ability bring the Broncos back late in games. His quarterback play? Well, some people aren’t so sold on that. It has nothing to do with intelligence, though. The knocks on him have to do with his skill.
He’s a Manning and everybody knew he was smart. Here’s what makes this a notable score, though. It’s considerably higher than the two quarterbacks in his 2004 draft class – Ben Roethlisberger (25) and Philip Rivers (30). It’s also higher than Tom Brady (33), whom he’s now beaten in two Super Bowls. And perhaps most notably, it’s higher than his more celebrated brother, Peyton (28). Eli Manning has been trying to measure up to those other quarterbacks for most of his career. When it comes to IQ, though, he already had them beat.
He was once hailed as one of the greatest natural athletes ever to come out of college. He pushed Tom Brady from behind as a quarterback at Michigan. Then he turned down the chance to be the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick to sign a contract with the New York Yankees instead. There, he was exposed as a below-average hitter and ended up with only 1 hit in 9 Major League at-bats. He quit baseball and returned to football where he languished for four seasons in the NFL as a backup quarterback, made one start and completed 11 of 20 passes for 98 yards.
There are different kinds of smart, apparently. McElroy is obviously brilliant and was an outstanding quarterback at Alabama, but his talent level made him only a third-stringer in his first NFL season. Then he did something most third-stringers wouldn’t do – he ripped into his team. He went on the radio in the offseason and blasted the “selfish” and “corrupt mindset” in the Jets’ locker room. He said “It’s definitely not a fun place to be, I assure you. It’s the first time I've ever been around extremely selfish individuals, and I think that’s maybe the nature of the NFL. But there were people within our locker room that didn’t care whether we won or lost.” Yikes. We’ll see how smart that is the next time the expendable third-stringer is back in the Jets’ locker room – assuming there is a next time.
What is it about Harvard guys and high IQs? Oh, never mind. He didn’t ace the test like McInally, but he came pretty close. Still, because he played in the Ivy League, he slipped to the seventh round of the draft and kicked around with a few teams before finally getting his chance with the Buffalo Bills. In his second year as a starter, he just had his finest NFL season, throwing for more than 3,800 yards. And he’s only 29, so he’s just hitting his prime. Maybe more importantly, he just signed a six-year, $59 million contract. That seems pretty smart.
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It’s not just the Wonderlic, but Mamula is often held up as the greatest example of why all the numbers just don’t matter. He was one of the first athletes ever to train and prepare specifically for the NFL’s annual scouting combine, and as a result he wowed everyone there. He ran a 4.58 in the 40. He pressed 225 pounds 28 times. He had a vertical leap of 38 inches and his Wonderlic score was the second-highest ever. As a result, the Eagles took him seventh overall in the NFL draft. He had six decent seasons, which included 31½ sacks. But he was never the impact player his pre-draft performance predicted he would be.