This is difficult right now on the first day of September, with the start of the NFL season only days away. But mentally, try to fade back to late February, a time when the Super Bowl hangover is finally subsiding, and we’ve now turned our attention towards obsessing over the future of young, talented football players, many of whom will have no future whatsoever in the NFL.

It’s a wild and crazy adventure, one in which imaginary stocks rise and fall, and we hear talk of flags (they’re usually red), and some vague, loosely defined term that often borders on being discriminatory (the dreaded character issues, which usually come with a red flag). Great fun is had by all.

Part of this circus is the Scouting Combine, and from that emerges the murky Wonderlic test, which gives draft prospects 12 minutes to answer 50 questions strategically designed to poke and prod the brain from different angles. It’s easy to understand why general managers and scouting staffs still see some value in the Wonderlic. The core of the Combine lies in measuring feats of strength and athleticism–40-yard dash, bench press–and the Wonderlic is the only tool designed to quantify mental strength.

What’s difficult to determine is exactly how much value should be given to the Wonderlic. General managers and coaches also have the opportunity to interview players during the Combine and visit with them afterwards, so there’s far greater context available to either fortify or completely dismiss the number on the Wonderlic paper. Although it may be the only method to quantify mental ability, the test is still merely one tool out of the many in the draft evaluation arsenal to evaluate intelligence and personality.

What’s especially difficult to understand is why fans care about the Wonderlic, and why any determination on intelligence is attempted in the absence of the context available to draft evaluators. We saw another attempt at such a conclusion yesterday when it was reported that Terrelle Pryor scored a lowly seven on the Wonderlic.

Those red flags started waving so furiously that they’ve now been ripped in half. Unwilling to wave his white flag, Pryor did what everyone does in the year 2011 to clear their name and/or permanently damage their reputation: he jumped on Twitter.

Pryor said he scored a 22, which is right around the average mark for his position. That was semi-supported by test administrator and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who said that Pryor took the test twice and his second score was significantly higher. The practice of taking the test multiple times saturates the results and sprinkles in more meaninglessness.

McGinn isn’t the first to jump on the rumblings of a low Wonderlic score that was later shot down, and the initial reaction to his report demonstrated the Wonderlic’s power to throw some more fertilizer on a growing stereotype.

Let’s just take a casual gander at the comments section of ProFootballTalk’s post, a haven for football commenting intelligence…

The first commenter makes reference to Vince Young, who at first reportedly scored a six. His score when he took the test a second time was 16.

The great thing about hand-picking examples to prove a point is that it’s easy. Look, I can do it too:

  • Every Wonderlic rant has to include the infamous Dan Marino reference, the Hall of Fame quarterback who parlayed his measly test score of 15 into a record-breaking career.
  • JaMarcus Russell reached the position average of 24. Now he enjoys a fine glass of Purple Drank, and his life coach has given up on him.
  • Terry Bradshaw matched Marino’s 15, which perhaps explains his desire to laugh for two hours on live television every Sunday. But it didn’t seem to hinder him much when he led Pittsburgh to four championships.
  • That 15 score is rather popular, and was also all Randall Cunningham could muster. He sucked.
  • Donovan McNabb is now fading with age, but he’s still put together a fine career despite the looming presence of a 14 on his Wonderlic paper.
  • Matt Leinart scored a 35, and now uses those superior book skills to look really, really good wearing a headset.
  • Alex Smith has one of the highest scores among active quarterbacks with his 40. It’s done little to make him realize that throwing into double coverage is often a bad idea.

Wide receiver Pat McInally is the only player to record a perfect score on the Wonderlic. He did it in 1975, and he still maintains that it actually hurt his draft stock.


“How did it hurt me in the draft? 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.

For teams, the Wonderlic is one of many tools to measure mental aptitude, an exercise that’s especially important during the risky game of trying to pick a franchise quarterback.

For the rest of us, the truth should lie somewhere in the middle of the scattered Wonderlic scores. Instead it becomes just another avenue to support a fabricated impression of a player that’s already firmly embedded.