Your Favorite NFL Player’s Alternate Career…as Determined by the Wonderlic Test

There has long been a debate about what the Wonderlic test tells teams about prospects. It seems more and more that people are beginning to agree that it tells them very little. Either that, or whatever it does measure has no predictive value on a player’s professional prospects.

And upon what do I base this conclusion? Take a look at some of the players below, all of whom were tremendously successful after scoring terribly on the test (please note, these are scores I found online, so there is no guarantee they are real scores, though the fact I found several of these on multiple sites might increase the probability they are real):

  • Darrelle Revis, AJ Green: 10 (have to mention that Jeff George scored a 10 as well)
  • Keyshawn Johnson: 11
  • Randy Moss: 12
  • Ray Lewis: 13
  • Eddie George, Donovan McNabb, Marshawn Lynch: 14

And some of the players with the best scores had forgettable careers (or at least they weren’t as memorable as some of the above):

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick, Greg McElroy, Ben Watson, Kevin Curtis: 48

The best score ever was a perfect 50, scored by Pat McInally. Who, you ask? He was a punter and receiver for the Bengals who was a 5th round pick out of Harvard in 1975. A Hall of Fame Wonderlic score, but not a Hall of Fame career.

The honor for worst score? A 4 (!!!), scored by Morris Claiborne, who currently plays for the Jets. But Claiborne claims he blew the test off since he didn’t believe the questions were relevant to football. It could be that this is a belief many prospects share, although you would think every prospect would do their best on every test in order to increase their draft status and the resulting payday that comes along with where they get drafted. Maybe Claiborne did try and made his declaration to cover up his poor score? Or maybe he really did blow it off. Maybe the fact you blow it off with so much on the line actually says more about your intelligence level than the test ever could (insert Coming to America “Eh-heh”). In any case, I feel like someone should get better than a 4 even by guessing (and they should, statistically speaking).

Which raises a question: If someone just guessed on every question, what score would they get? There are some open-answer questions on the test. I don’t know the exact portion, but to my recollection, they represented about ten percent of the questions. So that means there are 45 questions that are multiple choice. Let’s call it 44. Some have three potential answers, but most have four potential responses. Let’s just assume four to be conservative. That means, if you guessed every time on the multiple choice questions, you should get about an 11 or so on the test. Below that is a pretty bad score, but there are several good players (and some notable ones that weren’t so good) that scored at or below that level, including:

  • Frank Gore: 6
  • Kelvin Benjamin, Terrelle Pryor: 7
  • Sebastian Janikowski: 9

So what were the scores of some of the most promising young players in the league right now?

  • Reuben Foster: 9
  • Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook: 11
  • Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon: 12
  • Malik Hooker, Le’Veon Bell: 17
  • Melvin Gordon, Derek Carr, Deshaun Watson: 20
  • Christian McCaffrey: 21 (yes, from Stanford)
  • Marshon Lattimore: 23
  • David Njoku, Alvin Kamara: 24
  • Mitch Trubisky, Dak Prescott: 25
  • Jimmy Garoppolo: 29
  • Corey Davis, Myles Garrett: 31
  • Ezekiel Elliott: 32
  • Marcus Mariota: 33
  • Carson Wentz: 40

Which leads me to some interesting takeaways, which I will describe as either funny, shocking comparisons (similar scores from drastically different players) or flat out surprising (to me).

I was surprised that several recent Ohio State players scored as well as they did, specifically:

  • Joey Bosa: 37- This one still has me in shock, simply because Bosa looks like a caveman to me and I always figured the only coaching he ever received was a picture of a QB and the instruction to tackle. I honestly imagine him walking around the sideline mumbling “Must kill quarterback and get ball”. Apparently I’m wrong.
  • Ezekiel Elliott: 32- He’s just had way too many run-ins with the law at this point in an otherwise promising career for me to think he’s this smart. But maybe the test doesn’t measure common sense? Although I feel like some of the questions do, Zeke might suggest otherwise.
  • Cardale Jones: 25- I would have been surprised if Jones scored a 10 after his infamous “We came here to play football, not to play class” tweet. Apparently he adopted that attitude after tenth grade or so if he did this well on the test.

Akili Smith and Carson Palmer were top QB picks by the Bengals. Palmer had a great career, albeit much of it in Arizona, while Akili Smith was one of the biggest busts in NFL history. I saw one site that said both scored a 26, and another that claimed Palmer got a 26 while Smith scored a 37.

Jameis Winston scored a 27. I just can’t believe it. I’ve seen enough horrible speeches from the guy to wonder what is going on in his head. Apparently, the Wonderlic doesn’t tell you if you have a screw loose, because I really think Winston does. Also, like Zeke, his track record of undermining himself with suspect activity suggests he’s not this intelligent.

Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez scored the same: 28. Manning is known for some of the most remarkable stats in history (yes, in particular in the regular season) and for being considered one of the most “football-intelligent” players in history. Mark Sanchez is known for the Butt-Fumble.

Johnny Manziel scored a 32, which is a few points higher than Peyton Manning and only one point below Tom Brady. I guess this goes to show the Wonderlic is not reliable for measuring character. Who knows if the interview does that (apparently not in all cases). With the questions reportedly being asked by teams, we should probably wonder about the character of those doing the interviews for them.

Jared Goff scored a 36. I think I’m only surprised by this because of how he projected (or was depicted) on Hard Knocks. You can think the sun revolves around the earth and still score a 36 on the Wonderlic apparently.

While it wasn’t a surprise by any means, it’s interesting to note that the highest score by a notable player (meaning a recent player with Hall of Fame level performance) was Calvin Johnson’s 41. Maybe the Lions should have been scared off by his score. Apparently he was intelligent enough to retire from the Lions.

I really do wonder if these players take the test seriously. I also wonder why they have the vocabulary questions on the test. I understand the logic questions and the problem-solving (mostly math), but the vocabulary questions don’t make any sense to me. I guess they want football players to “talk good” in their post-game interviews.

Many people think the best job in professional sports is back-up QB. You get paid well, rarely have to go into a game, and can have a long career as a back-up, while still getting many of the perks a QB gets. Apparently, the smartest football players have figured this out; on the list I saw of the top sixteen scores (all 41 or above) by NFL players, EIGHT of them were by QBs that were primarily back-ups during their careers. To be clear, I included Fitzpatrick in that list, even though he has been a starter for a few seasons. The others were all true back-ups however.

One more fun fact: certain professions are associated with Wonderlic scores. That means if the following players hadn’t made it to the NFL, these might have been their professions:

  • Donovan McNabb and Marshaw Lynch- Janitor (14)- Can you imagine how awesome it would be if your high school janitor was Marshawn Lynch? Just a funny ass guy mopping floors, telling jokes, and munching Skittles.
  • Terry Bradhsaw, Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham- Warehouseman (15)- I guess they could throw the packages.
  • Le’Veon Bell, Khalil Mack- Security Guard (17)- I imagine Mack would be a particularly effective security guard. I feel like Bell would assume if he doesn’t show up to work that people will be scared they aren’t protected and will just offer him more money. In the real world, they call this a “strike”. In football, it’s called a “hold-out”.
  • Cam Newton- Receptionist (21)- Cam would be a lovely receptionist. He dresses the part, for sure. And he has a very welcoming smile.
  • Brian Cushing- Nurse (23)- It would be awesome to be there the first time a smart-ass patient refers to Brian Cushing, R.N. as Nurse Focker. Or just makes fun of Cushing being a nurse, period. However, Cushing strikes me as a guy that should not have access to prescription pills.
  • Giovanni Bernard, Brock Osweiler, Cardale Jones, Ben Roethlisberger- Sales (25)- I think I would buy anything from Gio. He just seems like a charming guy. Osweiler would become known for the “Osweiler Sales Method”. That’s when you propose a big sale to your customer and then you “check down” and settle for selling the customer the least expensive item in your sales bag. This one kind of bothers me, for a personal reason. I’ve made a lot of jokes about the (apparent) intelligence levels of Brock, Cardale, and Big Ben in my writing and now I learn their Wonderlic scores predict they would be salesmen. I started my career as a salesman. Hmmph.
  • Ryan Leaf, Jameis Winston, Clay Matthews- Librarian (27)- I don’t know which of these is the funniest to imagine. You have Jameis Winston, who I imagine can’t keep his mouth closed for five seconds. I picture him giving some classic pep talks to visiting third grade classes, which would of course include him gobbling a hardcover book. “Who’s hungry for knowledge. We gonna eat some knowledge today!!” Then you have Ryan Leaf. I don’t know what is particularly funny about that image, but maybe it’s the fact I see him having a meltdown if someone won’t shut up. And then there’s Clay Matthews. I can actually see him being a great librarian. Hair pulled back in a pony tail. Spectacles. Quietly and politely putting a finger to his lips when someone is talking…and then blindsiding them if they refuse to shut up.
  • Terrell Suggs- Chemist (31)- I know- Suggs scored a 31. I don’t know if I’m surprised or not, but in any case, I would love to see Suggs shuffling around a lab in a lab coat in a pair of safety goggles.

I have read that teams don’t like players that score too low, but similarly, get concerned if a player scores too high. Maybe they are scared they will have a Calvin Johnson on their hands- you know, someone who is smart enough to realize they should walk away from the game. Or maybe it’s a bit like the military and they don’t want people that are going to question the coaches and chain of command. This doesn’t bode well for Josh Rosen, (he who is known to question his coaches). I guess coaches just want to tell guys what to do on each play and don’t want them out there freestyling.

So what are my conclusions after researching the Wonderlic test? First, it is absolutely not predictive of success in the NFL. Second, it is probably damn near irrelevant to the effectiveness of a football player and teams should maybe look for another way to evaluate intelligence.

You could conclude that it’s a little scary how many players score below a certain level on the test (keep in mind a 30/50 is a 60% and anything lower would represent a failing grade in a traditional sense), but we can’t be sure how seriously the players take it. I certainly don’t think it makes a team second-guess drafting a top-tier talent. My guess is that if two players that are similar in every other way (physical stats, career performance, etc.), but have vastly different Wonderlic scores, it may come into play.

I can conclude that it can make for some pretty hilarious images when you start thinking about the careers some of these guys might have had.

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