Are You Smarter Than Tom Brady?
Ah, the NFL Combine. In what other industry is it okay to poke and prod people like human cattle, eyeing them up like pieces of meat? You gotta run faster, jump higher, lift more reps - or else find yourself relegated to the UFL, or worse, Canada.
Fair or not, one of the biggest conversation points that comes out of the combine isn't the 40, the shuttle, or even the vertical leap. No, it's the Wonderlic, the bane of many who step onto the field. It's fair to say that many tough, brutal, strong football players fear the test more than any opponent; after all, having all of the natural athletic ability in the world won't help you determine how many apples Johnny will have to buy.
There's some serious debate about whether the Wonderlic has any predictive value in determining whether or not a player will perform to expectation; current analysis seems to suggest little correlation. In fact, the NFL has rolled out this year a whole net set of analytic tests to achieve what the Wonderlic has lacked for all these years. While it's true that certain skill positions require a strong football mind, it's unclear whether or not a "football mind" and an overall intelligent, quick mind are the same thing. After all, football is a highly specialized skill, not unlike mathematics or life sciences - two things that can be learned (but not necessarily mastered) by rote repetition.
First, let's try a few samples from the test. Get a piece of paper ready.
1. Paper sells for 21 cents per pad. How much will four pads cost?
2. Resent and reserve. Do these words have similar meanings, contradictory meanings, or mean neither the same nor the opposite?
3. A train travels 20 feet in 1/5th of a second. How many feet will it travel in three seconds?
4. A box of steps has a length of 6 cm, a width of 7 cm, and a volume of 378 cm cubed. What is the height of the box?
5. Which number should come next in the series? 1, 3, 6, 10, 15..
6. Peyton Manning threw for 1,126 yards in his first four games. At this rate, how many yards will he throw for in sixteen games?
7. Last year, 12 employees out of 600 were rewarded for their excellence in customer service. What percentage of the workforce got rewarded?
8. Some months have 30 days, others have 31. How many months have exactly 28 days in them?
9. Divide 30 by half. Add 10. Multiply by 3. Add 6. What does this equal?
10. The day before the day before yesterday is three days after Saturday. What day is it today?
Okay, let's stop there. The actual Wonderlic has 50 questions, but for the sake of keep the article short, let's cut it at 10. To get your score, multiple your correct answers below by 5, and then compare yourself to a few athletes.
1. $0.84. 2. Neither the same, nor the opposite. 3. 300 feet. 4. 9cm. 5. 21. 6. 4,504. 7. 2%. 8. One. 9. 216. 10. Friday.
How did you do? I bet you did pretty well, you smart cookie, you! Now let's compare you to the stars of the league, starting with none other than Tom Brady.
Tom Brady - Wonderlic: 33
Both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers (35) are examples where Wonderlic does a good job of predicting capable performance. The average score for a QB is 24; both Brady and Rodgers come in well above that, perhaps owing to the strong academic schools (Michigan and UC-Berkeley, respectively) in which they attended.
Both Brady and Rodgers are known for a very cerebral presence, almost surgical in their precision. Many QBs who truly understand the position comment on how the game seems slower to them, indicative of a fundamental understanding of the game and how advantageous certain situations can be.
In case you're curious, the highest score of any current starter comes from none other than Ryan Fitzpatrick, scoring a 48. Of course, he did go to Harvard.
Donovan McNabb - Wonderlic: 14
You can count me in the group that thinks Donovan McNabb got a bad rap. He never got started on the right foot from day one in Philadelphia; the fans instead wanted Ricky Williams. Instead, they got a consistent top-10 QB for a decade, giving them stability in the position and the chance to win many more games than they would if they had gone with the mercurial back.
It's hard to argue with Donovan's numbers, even in the inflated, pass-heavy league that is modern football: a career passing rating of 85.6 - watered down by his nomadic last two years in the league - and a TD/INT ratio of 234 to 117, 2:1 if you're scoring at home. Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles went 92-49 with McNabb under center, and isn't that the true testament to a QB?
Not if you ask a Philly fan. He was 9-7 as a playoff QB, losing in countless games in which they were favored, never quite getting over the hump. Only one of those wins was a comeback game, in 2003; the rest of those losses were games in they were down and stayed down. His playoff QB rating dropped to 80.0, finalized with an ugly 34-14 loss to Dallas in which McNabb was ineffective.
Is this lack of performance due to a low Wonderlic score? Perhaps not. But it is true that a big knock on McNabb year after year was about composure, his ability to perform in tight situations, and his tendency to make the worst decisions at the worst times. It's on you to decide whether or not that is related to raw intelligence. It's worth mentioning that McNabb's score of 14 was the lowest of the five QBs taken in the first round of the 1999 draft and he was the only one to have a lengthy and successful career.
Predictor Of Success
The largest and most recent study to look at the Wonderlic concluded that Wonderlic scores failed to positively and significantly predict future NFL performance for any position. In fact, the Lyons study also found that the relationship between Wonderlic test scores and future NFL performance was negative for a few positions, indicating the higher a player scores on the Wonderlic test, the worse the player will perform in the NFL.
Pat McInally, the only player known to have a perfect score, thinks that his high score actually worked against him, saying: "Coaches and front-office guys don't like extremes one way or the other, but particularly not on the high side. I think they think guys who are intelligent will challenge authority too much."
What Actually Matters: Height
The cold truth is that the combine tests are ill-fitted to properly evaluate quarterbacks, as the primary traits tested are those of raw athleticism -- namely speed and strength. While having these traits doesn't hurt, a QB doesn't need to be overly strong nor overly fast to succeed. A strong arm, accuracy and solid decision-making all go quite a long way.
After looking at the numbers, the best predictor for quarterbacks isn't actually a performance test at all. Height correlates to draft position at minus-0.27, higher than any of the other tests. The negative signifies that the taller the quarterback is, the closer to the beginning of the draft he will be selected. Be wary, though, as a correlation that low doesn't mean much.
To give you a sense of history, only two quarterbacks shorter than 6-foot-2 have been drafted in first round in the past decade. Strangely enough, both started as recently as 2012: Rex Grossman and Michael Vick. The highest number of first-round picks come between the range of 6-2 and 6-6 -- no surprises there, as the majority of quarterback candidates fall into that range.
What do you think? Does the Wonderlic have any impact on whether you'd like your team to draft someone or not?