Wonderlic scores and the NFL draft
Within a day of the quarterback’s Wonderlic tests, rumors began circulating that Vince Young had scored a six. To put this score in context, there are few players in the NFL, much less would-be starting quarterbacks, who have scored that low. Regardless of the cause behind the score, be it a grading error or a lack of preparation, the score itself quickly worked its way into the country’s collective sport consciousness as blogs and bulletin boards raged and jested at the implications.
The score’s effect on Young’s draft stock has been a common theme in draft story lines since the Combine in late February. Many have suggested that the original score, or the reported make up score of 16, has sufficiently lowered Young’s draft stock to allow Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler to leapfrog Young for the second quarterback to be selected in April’s draft. This story line has been gaining momentum since various online sources have reported Wonderlic scores in the mid-30s for Southern Cal’s Matt Leinart and upper-20s for Cutler.
My research, while not explicitly designed to address this situation, provides some insight into how Wonderlic scores have historically affected the draft position and compensation of their owners at the quarterback position.
In the Spring of 2005, I published a paper in which I presented an empirical analysis of the relationships between intelligence and both passing performance in college and compensation in the NFL. I selected a group of 84 quarterbacks who were drafted and subsequently signed to NFL rosters from 1989 to 2004. My hypothesis was that intelligence is the most important and perhaps most rewarded at the quarterback position. I used a wide variety of passing performance statistics and Wonderlic scores to separate the effects of intelligence and ability. The estimated models revealed no statistically significant relationship between intelligence and collegiate passing performance. Likewise, I found no evidence of higher compensation in the NFL for players with higher intelligence as measured by the Wonderlic Personnel Test administered at the NFL Scouting Combine.
There are several important notes to bear in mind when evaluating the usefulness of this study. First, the Wonderlic test does not directly measure intelligence, but rather the capacity to learn. This subtle distinction is an important one as NFL franchises are interested in measuring whether and how quickly a prospect will be able to comprehend an NFL playbook. In my conversations with rookies, many frequently described the transition to an NFL playbook as akin to learning a new language.
Second, my study deals solely with quarterbacks. Although the models I developed revealed no additional benefits (earlier draft position, additional compensation) for smarter players at the quarterback position, such compensation may indeed exist at other positions where such a wide variety of performance statistics are not readily available.
Third, the Spring 2005 study consisted of 84 quarterbacks due to the availability of historical rookie compensation data and Wonderlic scores. Future efforts on this front may benefit from additional data expected to be available from a number of secondary sources on the Internet.I have recently re-estimated several of the original models, utilizing additional quarterback performance and Wonderlic data. The re-estimated models do not differ substantially from the original estimates. I hope to be able to gather additional data in the future to look at the long-term effects of drafting a more intelligent quarterback.