Wondering about the Wonderlic: Does it Predict Quarterback Performance?

By Austin Tymins and Andrew Fraga

During the 2014 NFL Draft, all 32 NFL teams will be on the clock to invest in the future of their franchises. Decision makers will feel immense pressure to secure a top-notch first round pick, find the next Tom Brady in the sixth round, and, most importantly, avoid selecting a bust. College stats, highlight reels, and NFL Combine results will all be evaluated. The draft, however, isn’t just about physical prowess; in addition to the 6 workouts at the NFL Combine, such as the 40-yard dash and bench press, draft prospects must also complete the Wonderlic Test, an examination designed to gauge mental aptitude.

Prospects must complete this 50-question quiz within a 12-minute time limit. Scores on the Wonderlic Test range from 1 to 50 with the average draftee scoring about a 20. Charlie Wonderlic Jr., President of Wonderlic Inc., claims that a score of 10 and above suggests literacy, while the average score of 20 is comparable to a middling 100 IQ score. In theory, this brief exam should offer teams a comprehensive look at their prospects’ mental capacity, a crucial component to succeeding in any sport played at the highest level.

In its rather long history, The Wonderlic has produced a few top scores. Tennessee Titans quarterback and Harvard graduate, Ryan Fitzpatrick, notched a notable 48 on the exam, the highest reported among active players. Punter and Harvard graduate Pat McInally, however, remains the only player to have ever scored a perfect 50 on the test.

On the other end of the spectrum lie some horribly low scores. Quarterback Vince Young and San Francisco running back Frank Gore, for example, both received a measly score of 6. In addition, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne scored a 4 on the exam, understandably so, however, given his reported learning disability.

Richard Sherman, you ask? He beat out a majority of draftees with an above-average score of 24.

ESPN provides a sample Wonderlic Test (here for those interested) with questions like: “Paper sells for 21 cents per pad. What will four pads cost?” And “Which number in the following group of numbers represents the smallest amount?”

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated reported in his book, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, the average score by position on the Wonderlic as follows:

Position Average Score
Offensive tackles 26
Centers 25
Quarterbacks 24
Guards 23
Tight Ends 22
Safeties 19
Linebackers 19
Cornerbacks 18
Wide Receivers 17
Fullbacks 17
Halfbacks 16

Football is a much more complicated game than it appears to the casual observer. Coaches expect players to analyze hours of film to pick up on their opponents’ tendencies. During the game, players must adjust to constantly shifting dynamics. And no position is as cerebral as quarterback.

To determine whether the Wonderlic has any effect on QB performance, we examined the test results and NFL performance of 50 quarterbacks dating back to 2007. We included different measures of quarterback efficiency including QBR, Sack Percentage, Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, Passer Rating, and Interception Rate Per Attempt. From the various tests we ran, we found a negligible correlation between all the variables and Wonderlic scores of quarterbacks.

Performance Statistic Correlation with Wonderlic score
QBR .0049
Sack Percentage -.1071
ANet Yards Per Attempt .0535
Passer Rating .1217
Interception Rate Per Attempt -.1944

Not a single variable tested had a correlation above .2 (or below -.2), suggesting a minimal or very weak correlation between quarterbacks’ Wonderlic scores and the other variables at best.

Variable QBR Sack ANetYa~A Passer~g IntPA
p>|t| .979 .56 .771 .507 .286

Furthermore, the results of the regressions we ran tell a similar story. After individually regressing QBR, Sack Percentage, Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, Passer Rating, and Interception Rate Per Attempt on the corresponding Wonderlic scores, we did not find a single relationship that proved to be statistically significant at the 5% level, and most are not even close. That is, a quarterback’s score on the Wonderlic Test does not serve as a significant predictor for any of the metrics we analyzed.

It’s unclear whether intellectual proficiency isn’t as important for quarterback as we might think, or that the Wonderlic isn’t very good at measuring it; regardless, it’s very clear that the Wonderlic isn’t, and shouldn’t be considered, a good predictor of quarterback performance.  At the end of the day, scouts are better off watching tape, pro days, and the combine rather than reading test scores.

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