Does The Wonderlic IQ Test Predict Success In The NFL?
June 01, 2008, 12:03 AM
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The National Football League requires all draft prospects to take the 12-minute Wonderlic IQ test, but it`s not clear how much, if any, predictive value it has.

Here`s a little study of quarterbacks who entered the league from 2000 to 2004 by IQ (21 = 100) versus yards passing, which shows a strong positive relationship.

On the other hand, is yards passing the best dependent variable? And there are some arbitrary cut-offs involved. What do you do with all the quarterbacks who have barely gotten to play at all? There are quite a few drafted quarterbacks in the data table with 120+ IQs who have barely gotten into an NFL game.

I wouldn`t be surprised if teams keep an eye out for Brian Griese-types—smart quarterbacks who aren`t that physically talented—and keep them around in case injuries wipe out the top two quarterbacks and they need to plug in a warm body who has memorized the playbook and won`t throw too many interceptions. In non-emergency situations, you can use them as quasi-assistant coaches in the meantime, having them do clipboard-associated chores. The smarter ones won`t rebel as much at not getting any glory and will be working hard mentally to learn the game so they can become coaches later on. And they`re not likely to go to prison for dog-fighting.

Or maybe the NFL uses the Wonderlic for purposes of negotiating contracts? "This kid got 6 right out of 50 and he`s being represented by his uncle. Nobody in that family will know "net present value" from a hole in the ground, so let`s offer them a $10 million dollar contract with $9 million deferred until 2040. They`ll think they`re going to be rich." (Dennis Rodman signed that kind of deal with the Chicago Bulls once, where he got $100,000 per year for 30 years—of course, that annual $100k might be what`s keeping Rodman living indoors at present.)

It seems like with all the money involved, somebody should make up a quarterback specific cognitive test rather than rely just on a standard IQ test like the Wonderlic. I`ve played quarterback for a handful of plays in six on six flag football, but I was quickly yanked because I was clearly overwhelmed by the cognitive demands of following four receivers while dodging the pass rusher. Compare quarterbacks to baseball pitchers. The physical demands aren`t that different—a tall guy with a strong arm—but pitchers can concentrate on one thing at a time, with just a little bit of multitasking for checking the baserunner`s lead at first.

The QB brain test would involve things like memorizing plays and tracking multiple receivers and defensive linemen simultaneously—the military probably has a "situational awareness" test for fighter pilot applicants that could be adapted.

You could validate the test at summer camps for elite high school quarterbacks, where you can get a big sample size, and then track them at the camp, in high school, and then in college.