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Wondering About The Wonderlic

Hey, no one said I'd have to write my Wonderlic answers on a deflated football...NO FAIR!! Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Hey, no one said I'd have to write my Wonderlic answers on a deflated football...NO FAIR!! Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

With the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing now (Dave's very helpful annual combine introductory post is here) and with a busy day of work ahead of them today in which offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists work out while defensive linemen and linebackers are available to the media, I wanted to try and find a new angle of this whole deal to examine.

That got me to wondering about the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, which is administered to the players at the combine, and used as part of player evaluation in preparation for the draft. The main question I came up with in my wonderings was how do teams actually use the Wonderlic in their evaluation process?

Lucky for me, NFL front office veteran (with the Washington Redskins and the 2002 expansion Houston Texans) Charlie Casserly of, penned just such a piece to help me learn more about this.

As always, make the jump for more...

Casserly opens with this general description:

The Wonderlic Test, administered to players during the NFL Scouting Combine, is a 50-question quiz with a 12-minute time limit. The number of questions answered correctly is your score, plain and simple. The best way to describe the questions is that they are similar to those found on the SAT test. In my experiences, players who struggled academically had trouble with this test.

After breaking down Wonderlic scores by active player position from his days in the field, he discussed a Mendoza line of sorts that he observed.

Of all the players I was around during my 29-year career in the NFL, I cannot remember anyone who scored more than 20 and had trouble learning our system -- regardless of position.

Players who scored less than 20 were not necessarily unable to learn our system, but I always thought it was a red flag when a player scored in the teens. Not an absolute indicator that the player can't learn, but a concern. When that happened, we would explore other avenues to find out if the player would be able learn our system.

He then listed the other ways they assessed/determined "football intelligence":

  • Asking the player's college coaches about his learning ability.
  • Having our coaches devise a blackboard test purely covering football.
  • Watching tape to see if they routinely made mistakes.
  • And finally, administering the Wachs-Berger Test. (This test, designed by Harry Wachs and Ron Berger, did not consist of any reading or writing. And we found the test to be the most accurate predictor of a player's ability to learn our system.)

Wait, what? The Wachs-Berger Test? Hmmmm, what is that, exactly, and why have I never heard of it before?

I couldn't find a sample test or much detail, but did locate this description of it from a pretty interesting article on football smarts from the LA Times in January of 1988:

At George Washington University, Wachs and Berger have been using tests that measure sight and insight. Their tests seek to estimate raw intelligence instead of the IQ variety that predicts school success.

According to Wachs, The tests "tap into the human potential anywhere in the world" and have been given to tribes in Africa, to Eskimos and to children with learning problems.

In looking for new talent, Redskin scouts carry such items as a beanbag and goggles that distort lines of sight. They use small blocks and plastic shapes about the size of tiddlywinks. In all, the test is a series of games that lasts about 90 minutes.

The tests measure, among other football necessities, giving and following instructions, the ability to think under pressure, hand-eye coordination, speed of seeing, speed of thinking, adaptability to physical change, the willingness to take risks.

"Who can think on their feet in the global picture of a game" is how Wachs describes it. The scouts administer the tests; Wachs and Berger evaluate them.

I don't think we'll be able to find an on-line version of this one that we can all take and compare scores of...

Casserly closed out by noting the importance of intelligence and a player's desire to learn in the complex process of player evaluation:

We never relied on just one of these methods -- everything factored in.

Regardless of raw intelligence, I found the single most important characteristic in determining whether a player will fit into your system is his desire to learn.

However, a player's ability to learn a system is only half the story. Often, less intelligent players have trouble managing their lives off the field. And of course, off-field issues can affect on-field performance. Player aptitude is important, both on and off the field.

Still and all, we know it's a crapshoot. All these combine metrics of physical and cognitive ability only provide a pseudo-scientific aspect to this large and complicated process consisting of infinite factors, when no one really knows who or how players will succeed in the NFL. But it sure is fun to investigate and speculate, isn't it?

* * *

Speaking of fun, cc58 was the only member to jump in on the CSC Wonderlic Challenge Dave issued earlier in the week, so I'm going to open it up again today (I mean, what else are you going to do...chores? spend time with your family? c'mon, man!!).

Here's a link to a sample test on It'll only take five minutes to complete and then you score it and compute a rough total Wonderlic score. Who's with me???? Let's do this!!!


With it being Combine Week again, I'm also going to trot out this old joke that I think my dad told me when I was a kid - I've posted it before, but it's such a classic (that NEVER goes stale) and I enjoy it very much, so here you go (and after that, someone can say that they were told there would be no math):

Did you hear about the aptitude test that LSU gives to football recruits?

They put a piece of caramel candy on the table in front of the player, and if he eats it, they offer him an athletic scholarship. If he unwraps it first, and then eats it, they give him an academic scholarship.


You're welcome, and I can't wait to see YOUR Wonderlic scores. I'll show you mine, if you show me yours.

I'm going to end this now, because I sincerely fear where it's heading next...