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'The NFL Beat': Wonderlickin' Bad

Investigating the Wonderlic testing policies

By Alex Dunlap, 5:36PM, Thu. Apr. 5, 2012

'The NFL Beat': Wonderlickin' Bad

Wonderlic, Inc. administered its first exam in 1937. Since then approximately 120 million prospective employees have taken this test across virtually every industry in existence. The test is used by employers as a general measure for gauging intelligence and problem-solving aptitude present in potential members of their given workforce.

The “average” score on the Wonderlic Test is a 20, which is traditionally thought to represent an IQ of about 100. This score indicates the test taker was able to provide the correct answer for 20 of the 50 written multiple-choice questions asked during the 12 minutes allowed. The worst score in reported history among test takers at the NFL Combine now belongs to former LSU cornerback and elite 2012 NFL Draft prospect Morris Claiborne, who reportedly scored a 4. There is a lot to cover here, and as always I have been digging to bring the truth to you, my loyal reader. Why? Because I am a sick man, and only NFL knowledge in all its magical mystery can cure my ills.

I would like to preface this column by saying I am a big Morris Claiborne fan. I met Claiborne at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and was as impressed with his genial, charming, and intelligent demeanor as I have been with his absolutely sickening game tape. Claiborne is basically a more technical version of his former playmaking teammate at LSU, Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals. He is a nightmare in man-press coverage and has a silky smooth short area burst in the zone. He is a master of positioning against possible areas of exposure, and unlike many elite corners, he is not afraid of laying the big hit. It is an overall package that will likely send him to the NFL within the top five picks of an extraordinarily deep and talented 2012 draft.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to speak with senior officials at Wonderlic, Inc. as well as Dr. Brian Hoffman, a well-known psychology researcher and educator in human performance assessment at the University of Georgia. Now I’m here to spill it:

Hoffman co-authored a 2009 study with Brian D. Lyons in collaboration with California State University (Fresno) and Towson University. The Lyons Study was presented at the 20th and 21st annual Meetings of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. This 43-page study of 762 NFL players over three draft classes comes to two distinct conclusions:

1) NFL performance on the football field was only found to have a statistically significant correlation with Wonderlic scores among two positions: Tight end and defensive back. Correlations were statistically negligible across all other positions. (Yes, even QB.) In other words, with the exception of TEs and DBs, a player’s Wonderlic score (high or low) gave no predictable projection for their eventual productivity as an NFL player. It was worthless.

2)Tight ends and defensive backs showed a negative correlation.

You read that right. Among these two positions (one of which Claiborne plays) a bad score was a more promising indicator of future NFL production than a good one.

“When we started the study, we proposed that Wonderlic testing would be most important (for projecting NFL productivity) at the quarterback and offensive line positions,” Hoffman said. “We did find that QBs and O-lineman indeed had the highest average scores as positional groupings, but differences in these scores had no effect on eventual production.”

“Every now and then, when our study gets some press, I’ll look at the comments section [below the various online articles]. You see sarcastic comments saying things like, ‘Wait? You don’t have to be smart to be a jock?!’” Hoffman said, laughingly. “But there’s something to that. How important is it to be super smart to be an elite athlete? These players have proven by getting to this point that they most certainly have the skills to learn an offensive or defensive system. Certain techniques have been ingrained" through muscle memory and repetition, etc.

“We were a little bit surprised about the QB and OL findings, but the more you think back on the data, some things are easy to see.” Hoffman added, “You hear these guys on NFL Network say it all the time about the attributes of the league’s best DBs; it’s read and react, read and react. The Wonderlic isn’t a test for that.”

Mike Callans, VP of research and development at Wonderlic, Inc. is very familiar with the study and does not seem to be a huge fan of its findings or its experimenter methodologies.

“Where did they get their data?” Callans asked. “The test scores have never been, and will never be made available publicly. I don’t even know them, because part of my job is doing this sort of thing." (Talking to reporters/media.)

“That study is not based on legitimate data. They gathered information from off of the Internet. It would not be approved by peer review because the way it was gathered.” Callans went on, “I’ll tell you this, we were driving back [to Wonderlic Inc.’s headquarters in Chicago] from the Combine with the ungraded boxes of tests in the back of the van. On Chicago sports radio, I heard a report about a player’s Wonderlic score from the Combine. The information out there isn’t always right.”

When asked him where one might find any published studies to discredit the Lyons Study, Callans cited, “There are no studies to disprove it, because the data you need to disprove it is not available .... The fact is all other things being equal, you want the brighter player."

But is the brighter player what teams are really looking for with this test? If the Wonderlic can't help in predicting production, what can it help in predicting? It may be off-the-field issues, according to Hoffman.

"We'll be presenting a new study in three weeks at the SIOP Conference in San Diego about the correlation between the Wonderlic scores and off-duty deviance. We found that across all positions, there is indeed a positive correlation between low Wonderlic scores and occurrence of off-the-field issues."

Hoffman continued, "The most important thing is, look at the information we are able to gather here. How does this all get out? Agents address it, people leak it out, we can confirm our numbers through multiple outlets. Why should it be getting out? Why is this kid getting his name slung through the mud for a test score? Its something the NFL needs to address."

[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]

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