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NFL Combine 2013: The history of the Wonderlic

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The Wonderlic test has stirred up a lot of controversy over the history of the NFL Combine.

Andy Lyons

The Wonderlic Test will be returning to the NFL Combine in 2013, along with it a lot controversy, jokes, sportswriter outrage, claims of misreported scores, etc. Wonderlic results always seem to make headlines, which is bizarre considering that NFL teams tend to show little regard for the scores when draft day finally comes around. So what's all of the fuss about?

What is the Wonderlic?

The Wonderlic is a short intelligence test consisting of 50 questions that test takers must solve in just 12 minutes. The test is designed, essentially, to put the brain in a stress situation, facing complex problems that must be solved against a ticking clock. None of the questions test knowledge beyond an understanding of arithmetic, but under pressure they can be daunting. Take this example from a sample of questions compiled by ESPN a while back:

13. Three individuals form a partnership and agree to divide the profits equally. X invests $9,000, Y invests $7,000, Z invests $4,000. If the profits are $4,800, how much less does X receive than if the profits were divided in proportion to the amount invested?

Doable, but much harder when you consider trying to answer three more questions just like it in under a minute.

The test was created in 1936 by E.F. Wonderlic as a measure of cognitive ability. During World War II, the U.S. Navy began using the Wonderlic as a way to select candidates for pilot training and navigation. The test made its way into the NFL in the 1970s thanks to Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, who hoped that the test could be a reliable predictor of pro success. The test has been used by pro teams ever since.


Many question whether a high Wonderlic score is really a predictor of NFL success. A 2009 study even indicated that, in the case of tight ends and defensive backs, a negative correlation exists between Wonderlic scores and production. A good score on the Wonderlic may actually hurt your chances of succeeding at the next level.

Of course, the test may matter more for some positions than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, quarterbacks score the highest on the test on average behind only offensive tackles (26 points) and centers (25). Sports Illustrated suggested in 2010 that the Wonderlic is part of the Rule of 26-27-60 when it comes to predicting quarterback success. The rule says that a college quarterback will go on to succeed in the NFL if he scores at least a 26 on the Wonderlic, has at least 27 starts, and completes at least 60 percent of his passes in college. The rule has worked out consistently well over the years, though players like Cam Newton (21 on the Wonderlic) and Robert Griffin III (25) have some qualms.

Notable Scores

Wonderlic scores are never released publicly by the NFL, so whatever numbers are floating around cannot be verified. We have a pretty good idea about the best and the worst, however.

A perfect score of 50 has reportedly been achieved just once, by former Harvard punter/wide receiver Pat McInally in 1975. The highest score by an active player is 48 by Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who also attended Harvard. The score has been reported as the highest ever by an NFL quarterback.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Morris Claiborne. The Dallas Cowboys cornerback scored a four during the Combine last season, though he showed little remorse:

"I looked at the test, and wasn't any questions about football. I didn't see no point in the test. I'm not in school anymore. I didn't complete it. I only finished 15 or 18 questions."

He went on to be drafted No. 6 overall last season.

Vince Young reportedly scored a six on his first attempt at the Wonderlic, though that score was bumped up to 16 on his second attempt. The Tennessee Titans were not deterred, and selected the Texas quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.