Every year at the NFL Scouting Combine, future NFL players showcase their strength and skills through various tests and exercises. One test has nothing to do with physical skills but is a part of the Combine to measure critical thinking – the Wonderlic test.
What is the Wonderlic?
The Wonderlic test is a timed 50-question cognitive ability test that must be completed within a 12-minute window. The test is typically used by Human Resource departments at companies during a job interview to determine if a candidate would be a good fit at their company, or to help narrow down a large number of applicants for a job opening.
Questions feature basic arithmetic, logical reasoning and verbal reasoning related questions. The questions on the test are not necessarily difficult, but with a time limit of only 14 seconds per question, it is difficult to answer all of the questions before time runs out. You can take a sample Wonderlic test to see how well you might do on an official test.
The Wonderlic has been around since the 1920s, where it was primarily used as a cognitive ability assessment test for people in the military and at educational institutions – basically a shorter and faster version of an IQ test.
The Wonderlic at the NFL Combine
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Wonderlic became a part of the NFL. Legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry started asking college football players that he was scouting to take the Wonderlic test. Other football teams quickly adopted this, and the Wonderlic soon became one of many tests administered at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Unlike other tests at the combine, Wonderlic test scores are not released to the public. They are given to teams, but they somehow always manage to find their way to the media.
What is a Good Wonderlic Score?
The Wonderlic is a 50-question test, and each question is worth one point – a person who answers 25 questions correct would have a Wonderlic score of 25.
The Wonderlic is designed so that the average score for the general public is 20. While that may sound low, it is important to remember that the questions are not easy, and they have to be answered extremely quickly. Less than 1% of people who take the Wonderlic are able to complete the test without guessing on questions.
This is intentional, as the test is not about one’s deep understanding of arithmetic, grammar, and logical reasoning, rather one’s ability to solve those types of questions quickly.
The following is a list of average Wonderlic scores when sorted out by player positions:
- OT: 26
- C: 25
- QB: 24
- G: 23
- TE: 22
- S: 19
- LB: 19
- CB: 18
- WR: 17
- RB: 17
Is the Wonderlic Effective at Predicting NFL Success?
There is a big debate regarding the effectiveness of the Wonderlic and whether it should be used at all to rank draft picks or to make any sort of draft day decisions.
While all players take the Wonderlic, scores from quarterbacks always get the most attention – largely due to implied necessary intelligence and quick thinking required to be a successful QB in the NFL.
There are many anecdotal examples of quarterbacks who scored well or scored poorly on the Wonderlic but went on to have both great and lackluster careers. For example, Terry Bradshaw scored a 15 on the Wonderlic, but went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Vince Young also scored a 15 and was still drafted as the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, but had a passer rating of 74.4 in the NFL. Here’s a huge list of NFL Wonderlic scores of both former and active NFL players.
Because success can be subjective and conclusions can vary based on what you are using to measure success, it could prove very difficult to compare results of the Wonderlic with the career of the player. Is it offensive yards? Passer rating? Number of starts? Playoff wins? Just like how there is no definitive list of greatest NFL quarterbacks, there’s no clear-cut way to measure success in the NFL.
The most famous study to evaluate if there is a correlation between quarterback success in the NFL and Wonderlic scores was a study conducted by Arthur J. Adams & Frank E. Kuzmits at the University of Louisville, where they did not find any connection between Wonderlic scores and NFL success.
However, another study conducted by Criteria Corp looked only at Wonderlic scores of quarterbacks who had over 1000 passing yards, to remove backup quarterbacks and quarterbacks with low sample sizes from the picture. They noticed something interesting when you look at quarterbacks who score higher than 27 on the Wonderlic (the median score for QBs) when compared to quarterbacks who scored lower than 27: “the QBs who scored below the median Wonderlic score (for QBs) of 27 averaged 5,202 passing yards and 31.2 TDs over their first four years, whereas those scoring above the median averaged 6,570 yards and 40.8 TDs over the same period.”
Why Keep Using the Wonderlic?
Because the Wonderlic has been used at the NFL Combine since the 1970s, there is a large amount of data that scouts can use at their disposal. The Wonderlic is designed so that the average score is 20, so Wonderlic scores from the 2019 draft class can accurately be compared to results from 20 years ago in the 1999 draft class.
Additionally, the format of the Wonderlic fits well with the overall structure of the NFL Combine. It is over in 12 minutes, and players can quickly move on to complete another test in their busy day.
In the end, most NFL scouts who have talked about the Wonderlic publicly have said that it is one of many factors that they value in evaluating a player before the draft. With the rise of advanced analytics, and more teams embracing data over gut feeling, the Wonderlic will likely be a part of the NFL Combine for the foreseeable future.