Testing the Wonderlic
Johnny Manziel is better than Peyton Manning. At least when it comes to taking the Wonderlic test.
Manziel scored a 32 on the test, while Manning only managed a 28 coming out of college. The Wonderlic is a 12 minute, 50 question exam that’s meant to test a player’s problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Scores in the 30s are very good, and scores in the 20s are considered good. NFL teams usually administer the test at the NFL combine, and this year’s recently released scores show Manziel at the top with a 32, Blake Bortles with a 28, and Teddy Bridgewater with a 20.
What happens when a starved NFL media is fed juicy Wonderlic scores? They go to town. The consensus seems to be that while Manziel has sealed his top 10 draft status with his score, Bridgewater will continue falling down draft boards, his score of 20 yet another red flag after his not so stellar pro day last month.
Of course, there’s plenty of evidence that the Wonderlic isn’t predictive of NFL success (or failure) at all. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Terry Bradshaw all scored a 15 on the test. Wonderlic studs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Greg McElroy scored a 48 and 43 respectively, but were duds in the NFL. First round pick Akili Smith had a 37, and first round pick Vince Young had a 6 – both were busts. Donovan McNabb got a 14 on the test, the lowest score of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 1999 draft. He was the only one who went on to have a successful NFL career.
Proponents of the test say it’s a useful tool in evaluating quarterbacks, and opponents insist it’s a relic of the past. From what I’ve found, studies support the opponents. A 2009 study revealed that Wonderlic scores fail to significantly predict future NFL success for any position. The 2009 study even found the relationship between test scores and future NFL performance were negative for a few positions, meaning that players who scored very well were likely to perform poorly at the NFL level.
This seems pretty cut and dry. Even the most persuasive argument I found for keeping Wonderlic testing in place fails to convince me of its merit. The rhetorical question he answers is, “Why would it not be ‘relevant’ to explore a million-dollar employee’s cognitive intelligence?” Obvious answer: it is. But his article fails to first prove that the Wonderlic is the best test for evaluating cognitive intelligence – he simply takes for granted that it is, and assumes the reader does too. I can’t quite get on board with that, especially when there’s a study showing a negative relationship between high scores and NFL success.
If Manziel and Bortles end up being stars and Bridgewater a bust, the media will surely point to their Wonderlic scores. As fans, you should look deeper.