It’s the 2nd most wonderful time of the year for NFL fans. Outside of the start of the regular season, it doesn’t get much more exciting than to see the next wave of great players make their way across that stage in Radio City Music Hall, as we all attempt to play the role of NFL expert and project how all of these athletes will perform at the next level.
NFL draft weirdoes like me will spend hours upon hours reading about the measurables of an athletic defensive tackle from Memphis who’s on field impact and work ethic have been questioned named Dontari Poe. Or we’ll pour over the stats of a guy like Arizona’s Juron Criner, who for some reason is ranked as the 15th best wide receiver prospect behind the likes of Arkansas’ Greg Childs, who missed parts of two seasons with a major leg injury.
But aside from all of the measurables, the combine numbers and even the game film, is the cerebral aspect. Despite what some might think, football is more than just guys running aimlessly downfield hoping to get open so that the quarterback can hit them for a 70 yard touchdown. With so many different offensive and defensive schemes in today’s NFL, players need to be as focused and committed in the “classroom” as they are on the field. I wish I could say that the Wonderlic exam could be used as a valid assessment of that focus and commitment, but it clearly is not. For those of you who don’t know, the Wonderlic is an aptitude test that was created for employers to asses the cognitive abilities of potential employees. The NFL administers this test to all prospects who qualify and enter into the NFL Draft.
Just for fun, here is an example of a few sample questions from an actual Wonderlic exam:
1. PRESERVE – RESERVE — Do these words have:
a. Similar meanings
b. contradictory meanings
c. mean neither the same or opposite
2. Paper sells for 21 cents per pad. How much would 5 pads cost?
3. In printing an article of 48,000 words, a printer decides to use two sizes of type. Using the larger type, a printed page contains 1,800 words. Using smaller type, a page contains 2,400 words. The article is allotted 21 full pages in a magazine. How many pages must be in smaller type?
4. What number is next in the following sequence: 32 31 29 26 22 ?
Now I could be wrong, but the last time I checked, I don’t think knowing the difference between “PRESERVE” and “RESERVE” helps or hurts your chances of sacking the quarterback or taking a pick six to the house. So when the story surfaced earlier this week that LSU defensive back, Morris Claiborne scored a 4 – which is one of the all time low scores ever recorded on the NFL Wonderlic exam – I proceeded to shrug my shoulders and turn the page to the next sports story.
Most of these players who excel at the NFL level already know at a young age where their future lies. Often times their progression in the classroom will suffer because of their dedication in the film room and on the practice field. Especially so as they move closer to reaching that level (i.e. their junior years of college). The NCAA can try to hide under the cloak of fostering “student athletes” all it wants, but we all know that major college football is nothing more than a farm system for the NFL – one that the NCAA and its member teams profit off of greatly, to the disservice of the players themselves.
But lets be realistic. What do we want from these guys? We want them to go out on Sundays and provide us with 3 hours of entertainment while playing a game where the goal is to move a piece of pigskin 100 yards down a field by any means necessary. I don’t think it takes a legion of MENSA members to accomplish that goal. The mental aspect of a football game is a combination of natural instincts and film study of physical tendencies more than anything. Instead of sitting at a desk and using equations to calculate the elasticity of carbon fibers, a player like Claiborne would sit in a dark room studying film of a receiver and noticing that he always runs a post-pattern when he lines up as the flanker in a 11 personnel grouping.
Now, I know many of the questions on the Wonderlic exam are what most people would consider “common sense” types of questions. I mean one would think that anyone with a 6th grade education would know the difference between PRESERVE and RESERVE. But one thing the Wonderlic doesn’t take into account is the potential personal obstacles of each individual. These are things that you can’t gauge when administering any type of standardized test with the exact same guidelines for each individual. A test like this doesn’t take into account people who may have trouble reading (i.e. those who may be Dyslexic), may be tired, or possibly even stressed (which I’m sure most NFL prospects are around this time of year). It’s no different than the SAT, which has been proven to be an inexact measure of intelligence and cognitive ability. Obviously, the NFL wouldn’t administer the Wonderlic exam if it didn’t factor into their evaluation process. But I think too much is made of a test that doesn’t ask a single question related to the game of football.
When NFL coaches talk about wanting a “smart football player” they’re not referencing someone who can equate the square root of pi, they’re talking about guys who know the opponent’s tendencies on 3rd and short and will place themselves in the best position to stop the play behind the line of scrimmage, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters when it comes time to decide whether or not to draft a player.