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Intelligence Testing in the National Football League > Assessment > IQ Scores > IQ Classification > NFL



NFL Testing Provides Valuable Lesson for All Employers

NFL draft picks have taken the Wonderlic test for years because team owners need to know if their million dollar player has the cognitive skills to be a star on the field.

What does the NFL know about hiring that most companies don’t? They know that regardless of the position, proof of intelligence plays a profound role in the success of every individual on the team. It’s not enough to have physical ability. The coaches understand that players have to be smart and think quickly to succeed on the field, and the closer they are to the ball the smarter they need to be. That’s why, every potential draft pick takes the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT) at the combine to prove he does--or doesn’t—have the brains to win the game.

The WPT is a short form intelligence test that measures players’ ability to think on their feet, follow directions, and make effective decisions under the pressure of a time clock. It was originally developed in 1937 as a tool to quantify the mental abilities of potential job candidates and today more than 2.5 million job applicants in companies across the nation are given the Wonderlic test as part of the hiring process. The test is especially popular with larger organizations because it’s quick and easy to administer and delivers accurate information about candidates’ intelligence. “In just twelve minutes, they have quantifiable data about whether candidates can learn new skills, think effectively, and make important decisions under pressure,” says Michael Callans, president of Wonderlic Consulting, the Libertyville, IL based publisher of the test.

The first use of the WPT in the NFL was by Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 70s, who took a scientific approach to finding players. He believed players who could use their minds where it counted had a strategic advantage over the other teams. He was right, and the test has been used at the combine ever since.

Each year sports writers joke about jocks taking intelligence tests, but it’s a lesson to any business owner who is about to invest a sizable chunk of money into a new hire. The NFL spends millions of dollars on first round draft picks. Given the investment, they need all the information they can get about players’ physical and mental skills. The Wonderlic delivers that value. It’s the only cognitive measure used by the NFL, and players’ Wonderlic scores can determine where they end up in the draft and which players get the million dollar salaries.

“Selecting a new quarterback is like hiring a president for a company,” Callans says. “They need the intelligence to think on their feet, evaluate all of their options and understand the impact their actions will have on the outcome of the game.” Wonderlic helps team owners make the best selections by identifying which players have the mental strength to lead their team to victory.

“History shows that the brighter a person is, the more likely he is to be successful,” Callans says. “Whether they are on a football field or in a boardroom, smarter people are resourceful and they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”

For the NFL, years of testing shows that the higher a player scores on the Wonderlic, the more likely he is to be in the starting lineup—for any position. “There is no other reasonable explanation for the difference in test scores between starting players and those that sit on the bench,” Callans says. “Intelligence plays a role in how well they play the game.”

That lesson translates well for corporate use. “Whether you are hiring a mailroom clerk or a CEO, a defensive lineman or a quarterback, intelligence is an accurate determiner of success,“ Callans says. “Smart people achieve more, they are better leaders, and they add greater value to the company.”

About Wonderlic

Wonderlic, Inc. has been helping employers identify the best job candidates since 1937. Wonderlic serves thousands of clients, including the NFL combine, which has used the Wonderlic Personnel Test for more than 30 years as part of its draft selection process. Wonderlic tests are referenced in hundreds of books on psychology and have been featured on Dateline, CNBC, Lifetime, CNNfn, and 20/20. More than 130 million people have taken Wonderlic assessments.

For more information about the Wonderlic test, its use in the NFL combine, or interviews with business owners who have relied on the Wonderlic for years, contact Michael Callans at Wonderlic.(800.323.3742)

About Individual Wonderlic Scores
Dr. William E. Benet

NFL prospects' Wonderlic scores are not released to the public by the NFL. Reports of individuals' scores may be based on rumor and should be regarded with skepticism. Since these scores are widely discussed by fans on Internet sports forums, the following well-known list by Mac Mirabile (see also his article on intelligence and football below) is provided with this caveat.

Average Wonderlic scores in the NFL


This assessment roughly corresponds to examples from Paul Zimmerman's The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football. According to Zimmerman, examples of average scores include for each position,

  • Offensive Tackle - 26
  • Center - 25
  • Quarterback - 24
  • Guard - 23
  • Tight End - 22
  • Safety - 19
  • Linebacker - 19
  • Cornerback - 18
  • Wide receiver - 17
  • Fullback - 17
  • Halfback - 16

Perfect scores

Pat McInally is the only football player to record a confirmed perfect score of 50. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard University graduate like McInally, has also been rumored to have scored a perfect score of 50 [1]. However, he later claimed to have left at least one of the 50 answer spaces blank [2], leading the media to question his perfect score.[2]. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fitzpatrick's actual score was 38 (still considered excellent), but that the figure of nine minutes is accurate.

Average scores for ordinary people

While an average football player usually scores around 20 points, The Wonderlic, Inc claims a score of at least 10 points suggests a person is literate [3]. Furthermore, when the test was given to miscellaneous people of various professions, it was observed that the average participant scored a 24. Examples of scores from everyday professions included,

  • Chemist - 31
  • Programmer - 29
  • News writer - 26
  • Sales - 24
  • Bank teller - 22
  • Clerical Worker - 21
  • Security Guard - 17
  • Warehouse - 15


[3] Wonderlic Test History

Taking your Wonderlics

By Jeff Merron
Page 2/

Story: - Page2 - Taking your Wonderlics

Do These NFL Scores Count for Anything?

By Allen Barra
April 25, 2006
The Wall Street Journal Online


The NFL's Smartest Team

Each year, NFL hopefuls take a standardized intelligence test. As the results leak out, Sam Walker tallies the scores of more than 1,000 players, and asks: Does it take a genius to win at this game?

By Sam Walker
The Wall Street Journal Online
September 30, 2005

Intelligence and Football: Testing for Differentials in Collegiate Quarterback Passing Performance and NFL Compensation

McDonald P. Mirabile
The Sport Journal, 8 (2). Summer, 2005


This article presents an empirical analysis of the relationships between intelligence and both passing performance in college and compensation in the National Football League (NFL). A group of 84 drafted and signed quarterbacks from 1989 to 2004 was selected for the study. The author hypothesizes that intelligence is the most important and perhaps most rewarded at this position, and a wide variety of passing performance statistics are available to separate the effects of intelligence and ability. The OLS-estimated models reveal no statistically significant relationship between intelligence and collegiate passing performance. Likewise, the author finds 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.


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