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Monday, March 23, 2009

Matt Stafford and the Wonderlic

So, the guy in the photo to the right did better on the infamous Wonderlic intelligence test (given to potential NFL draftees) than you probably would have. (He scored a 38.)(If you want to try a sample, do so here.)

For comparison, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman scored 28 and 27, respectively. Stafford fell just shy of QB Wonderlic mavens Eli Manning (39) and Alex Smith (40). (Vince Young reportedly got a 6.) At wide receiver, Michael Crabtree only got a 15, Percy Harvin got a 12, and Darrius Heyward-Bey got a 14, while Jeremy Maclin snagged a 25. (Pat McInally, punter, wide receiver, and Harvard graduate is the only player confirmed to have scored a perfect 50.)

Apparently this puts Stafford in good company. According to Wonderlic, he has a high enough IQ for any number of professions besides pro quarterback:

Chemist: 31
Programmer: 29
Newswriter: 26
Sales: 24
Bank teller: 22
Clerical Worker: 21
Security Guard: 17
Warehouse: 15


But what does it all mean? Does the Wonderlic actually help predict who will be a good NFL quarterback? I previously discussed this question here. And, to see a visual representation of the average scores for each position in the NFL, see the chart below (hat tip Ben Fry):



So, while Stafford's 38 really jumps out, Crabtree's 15 doesn't seem all that bad. The interesting thing is what was noted in the original post: the closer you are to the ball, the higher your score.

But the question remains whether the Wonderlic is relevant at all. Indeed, Hall of Fame QBs Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw did quite weak, both scoring a mere 15. Here's what I said previously:

Yet two anomalies do not disprove the notion. Charlie Wonderlic believes that "What the score does is help match training methods with a player's ability, [like the ability to understand] a playbook. [O]n the field, the higher the IQ, the greater the ability to understand and handle contingencies and make sound decisions on the fly."

I don't have a firm answer either way. I think there's nothing wrong with giving the test, and different teams appear to put varying degrees of emphasis on the test results. Some only care if a player scores extremely low or extremely high, while others take the test quite seriously. The image above clearly indicates it matters more or less depending on the position. Advanced NFL Stats has previously discussed studies that attempted to chart out QB performance as a function of their Wonderlic results. My guess is that the Wonderlic is a weak predictor in the same sense as the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, and the bench press: If you chart out performance with those combine statistics, although you will see a positive trend, it will be full of noise, will not give you predictions with high certainty, and counterexamples - like Dan Marino - will be abundant.

5 comments:

Richard said...

I used this exact eaxmaple in a group setting and asked for theories. The most plausible? That players requiring quick reactions without knowing the play have the lowest scores because they are "reactors", not "thinkers" and "planners". Offensive tackles must know the play, all the variations, interpret defensive keys and stunts, and yet make the hole in the right place as planned. Defensive backs and linebackers don't know the play and must pick a series of cues to which they must react. The HoF quarterbacks played as reactors a good deal of the time. Neither Bradshaw nor Marino were particularly wedded to the called play when opportunity presented, and they didn't think about it long. Alex Smith is way high on Wonderlic but still is mentally running the play while missing the opportunity to react. The Brothers Manning differ in personality and Wonderlic scores. Payton is the lower scored reactor, Eli the planner, and it shows in the way they "run" their respective teams. (Although Payton has spent a good deal longer mastering film to give him better reactivity.)

But it's probably too simple an explanation, Occam's Razor and all that.

Coach Daniel said...

I find it amazing that defensive linemen have higher scores than linebackers. The theory has always been if you can't teach them anything, put their hand in the dirt! Guess that doesn't work in the NFL.

Chris said...

Coach D: I know it is surprising. Maybe it gets to Richard's point about reacting but, then again, linebackers and safeties are often given more "assignments" than lineman. (Though a 1 point difference is not a huge differential.)

Richard: That's a fascinating theory. I actually thought of the Eli/Peyton dichotomy too: Peyton only got in the mid 20s while Eli had a 99th percentile score with a (39). Like you said though Eli sometimes seems to suffer from "paralysis by analysis" on the field, and surely Peyton can't be said to lack the requisite intelligence for the position, considering the hours he puts in.

The million dollar question is trying to determine who is successful within the position -- i.e. how important is the Wonderlic to NFL success. One study I'd like to see is maybe a regression of Wonderlic scores against character issues/length of time in the NFL/etc. Maybe guys with good Wonderlic's can hang around and "get it" in terms of what it means to succeed in the NFL, get along with teammates, and succeed. I'm not sure what the best Y variable would be to test this though. Maybe just length of NFL career?

Stan said...

Peyton was also Phi Beta Kappa and graduated in 3 years.

Stan said...

BTW -- why was Bradshaw considered that good? The four rings might have something to do with playing with one of the greatest collections of talent in football history. His numbers were pedestrian. Given his running game, O line and receivers, he underperformed.

People forget that he lost his job for five games in their first Super Bowl season to Jefferson St Joe Gilliam. I guess Noll wasn't that impressed with him, either.