There are few tests more inconclusive for indication of future success in the NFL than the wonderlic score. It does however, give you a decent idea of the intellectual capacity of the players. Many of you may be wondering what exactly a ‘wonderlic score’ is. In short, it’s an IQ test of sorts for incoming players into the NFL. Regardless of its history and confusing role in the NFL, the league continues to measure its prospective players’ intelligence for purposes of. . . well, knowing how smart they are.
Truthfully it does play a role in a prospective team’s evaluation of future players. How could it not? Intelligence is one of the most valued qualities in humanity. And the NFL can bring complex challenges at times, whether they be mental, psychological, or of course, physical. Some indications of how misleading the wonderlic score may be are as such: Dan Marino, a QB whom everyone knows, and has had a hall of fame career, scored a 15 out of 50 on the wonderlic test. Conversely, QB’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and Greg McElroy both scored a whopping 48 out of 50, the second highest score ever. Both of them were decidedly so-so on the field. The highest wonderlic score in history is held by linebacker Mike Mamula with a 49, who was drafted by the Eagles in 1995. His career only lasted six years, where he recorded 209 tackles and 31.5 sacks– okay numbers. Terry Bradshaw, hall of fame QB with four Super Bowl championships under his belt, only scored a 16 on the wonderlic. Whatever the wonderlic is or means, at the end of the day, it ultimately wont sway scout’s decisions very much in either direction.
Blaine Gabbert got a 42. Aaron Rodgers scored a 35. No one has any delusions of Gabbert ever being a better QB than Rodgers. Matt Leinart tied Rodgers to also score a 35, and his career was, well, tumultuous to say the least. It appears the dead horse has been beaten thoroughly. As for this list, though, there is some consistency in that most of the players didn’t have dazzling careers, and many of them had no careers at all. The reality is, the wonderlic is simply a way for the NFL teams to judge prospects based on their intelligence. Even though it doesn’t always translate onto the field. Who knows, maybe they do it for fun.
10. Michael Bishop — QB — Wonderlic Score: 10
A two-sport athlete out of college, Michael Bishop was both a baseball and football player who chose to pursue football in college despite being drafted late in the 1995 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians. He had a stellar career in junior college where he won two junior college National Championships, both with perfect seasons, 12-0. He then transfer to Kansas state where he would eventually defeat Donovan McNabb in the Fiesta Bowl. He placed 2nd in Heisman voting that season despite an incredible year production wise, amassing 37 total touchdowns.
By all rights Bishop looked like a solid NFL prospect, though he ended up as a seventh round draft pick in the 1999 draft, so teams clearly weren’t sold on him. How much his wonderlic score of 10 influenced that, we don’t know. The team that selected him was the Patriots, and he’d hardly get any playing time (given the presence of Drew Bledsoe and yet the undiscovered talent of Tom Brady.) His career in the NFL only lasted two years. This is the unfortunate reality of the NFL for prospects. There are very few jobs to be held, and thousands of prospects like this just won’t get the chance.
9. Jeff George — QB — Wonderlic Score: 10
Whatever people think about the wonderlic score, it didn’t influence the Colts’ decision in 1990. With the first pick in the draft, they selected Jeff George and his whopping wonderlic score of 10, awarding him the richest contract in NFL history for a rookie at the time (six years, $15 million.) He fell out of favor in Indianapolis after going 14-35 over four years as a starter, and was traded to the Falcons. This would begin a ping-pong effect as George went from the Falcons to the Raiders to the Vikings to the Redskins, until his career relegated him to backup roles, where he briefly held stints despite never playing with the Seahawks, the Bears, and back to the Raiders. Some people are just lucky enough to get donated extra money at the tail end of their career it seems. His career numbers ended at a 57.9% completion rate, with 154 TDs and 113 INTs, and a QB rating of 80.4. First overall picks just have it easy.
8. Sebastian Janikowski — K — Wonderlic Score: 9
This club-footed (not really) placekicker out of Florida State managed to achieve single-digit wonderlic score glory. I’m sure this mattered little to scouts, given that the intelligence is not exactly a vital need for kickers. If you could train a gorilla to whack a ball 60 yards with his foot, you could put a helmet on him and let him play. Come to think of it, that sounds exactly like Sebastian Janikowski. Affectionately named Seabass, (as in “kick his ass, Seabass.” Thank you Dumb and Dumber) Janikowski has been one of the best placekickers in the league since he was selected 17th overall in the first round (!) of the 2000 NFL draft. Al Davis‘ late in life madness struck again. Surely Janikowski would’ve been available as a third round pick or lower. Only two other times in NFL history was a kicker selected in the first round of the draft. He managed to break and NFL record at the time, kicking a 61 yard field goal, and has the most points of any Raider in history. But he is just a kicker. I suppose if you compare him to one JaMarcus Russell, he’s a slam dunk pick. Compared to everything else, it’s just an absurdity.
7. Chris Leak — QB — Wonderlic Score: 8
It’s hard to have much of a clue as to what Chris Leak might have been in the NFL. With the NFL of today, short quarterbacks are gaining momentum as potential superstars, as guys like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees bring home championships. Chris Leak was 5’11”, and had a fantastic collegiate career, winning a National Championship for the Florida Gators in 2006. Despite all that, he was undrafted in 2007, and signed on as a UFA (undrafted free agent) for the Chicago Bears. He never made it onto a regular season NFL roster, and spent a number of years bouncing around the CFL and the AFL. Given his inability to stick to a roster anywhere, it seems unlikely he would have had much of a chance in the NFL. But his wonderlic score of 8 certainly never helped him along the way. Now he works as a graduate assistant on the Florida Gators football staff, working with the offense.
6. Vince Young — QB — Wonderlic Score: 6
When you’re an incredibly high-profile, standout prospect heading into the NFL, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with you. Teams are terrified of the too-good-to-be-true status of players, and so flaws will be found and harped on. For Vince Young, that flaw was his hilarious 6 score on the wonderlic. The outcry led to him re-taking the test, where he would score a 14 his second try. As much as we say it doesn’t matter, scores that low tend to scare people. It probably cost him being a 1st overall pick, though he was selected 3rd overall by the Titans in 2006. Looking back now, one could argue that the concerns were somewhat well-founded, given that it wasn’t his lack of talent that basically ended his career, but a lack of maturity. His work ethic and attitude came into question, and eventually he led to a dissolution of the Titans team at the time, as Jeff Fisher was fired and Young and others were cut or traded. It’s hard to say he’s anything but an indicator of when the negative results of the test actually do match poor results in the NFL.
5. Oscar Davenport — QB — Wonderlic Score: 6
This is probably the most clear cut of scenarios when it comes to the wonderlic dooming a prospect. Despite not accumulating a lot of playing time in college, Davenport showed plenty of potential when he did see the field, and could be described as a prototypical NFL quarterback as far as measurables are concerned. He could scramble, or tuck it and run, and had a big arm with decent accuracy. Oscar Davenport was eligible to be drafted in 1999, widely regarded as a developmental prospect possibly worth a late round pick. He went undrafted though, and never even made it onto an NFL roster as a developmental player. Surely this was due to his awful wonderlic score, which served to be just enough reason to let teams pass him by. Unfortunately we’ll never know what, if any, potential Oscar Davenport had.
4. Frank Gore — RB — Wonderlic Score: 6
Despite only getting 6 questions right on the wonderlic, the 49ers selected Frank Gore 65th overall in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft. Some may think that intelligence is not a needed quality for a running back, but that is something of a falsehood– running backs have to learn blitz pickup schemes, have to excercise patience sometimes in waiting for running lanes to develop, and often have to learn routes and offensive schemes for catching passes whether it be in the backfield, or anywhere upfield. Such things take study, and memorization. So let’s not gloss over the obvious, there’s been plenty of running backs who couldn’t stick in the NFL becuase they couldn’t grasp the offense or weren’t able to learn and adjust to pick up free blitzers. As far as Gore himself, he’s probably the most successful player on this list, as he has become a fearsome running back in the NFL, a veritable force to be reckoned with. He has a host of accolades to his name, and has rushed for nearly 10k yards and amassed 60 rushing TDs. Frank Gore is certainly the poster child for players who didn’t let the wonderlic hold them back.
3. Edward ‘Pig’ Prather — S — Wonderlic Score: 5
A decidedly unfortunate nickname for someone who would score so low on an intelligence test, Pig Prather was someone who suffered for it. Even though the average score for safetys in the NFL is only 19, his inglorious 5 was a problem for another reason: he gambled in coverage. Rather than trying to read and react, or learn patterns from opposing offenses, Prather tended to just guess. Prather is proof that you can be plenty talented but if you can’t apply knowledge and learn to adapt, the talent is useless in the NFL. And as you might surmise, all the sloppy play on the field during college for Prather led to a nonexistent NFL career. Which isn’t much of a shock. Especially at the safety position, teams would rather take slower, smarter players because of all the complexities of defensive schemes. He’s something of a lesson for kids learning football everywhere– what you learn in a film room or with a coach is just as important as what you learn on the field.
2. Darren Davis — RB — Wonderlic Score: 4
Darren Davis went undrafted in his year of declaration for the NFL draft, 2000. He went undrafted, perhaps largely because of his 4 on the wonderlic, and chose to enter the CFL, following his brother Troy, who had spent 3 years in the NFL before going to the CFL. As far as Darren’s collegiate career, he put up very strong numbers, rushing for over a 1,000 yards each year for the Iowa State Cyclones. In the CFL he signed on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons with the team. From there, he bounced around a number of CFL teams, before eventually falling out of the league in 2004, unable to make the Montreal Alouettes opening day roster. Was Darren doomed by his wonderlic, or merely not a complete enough running back to have a chance to make it in the NFL? Hard to say for sure, but it seems likely that if he was good enough, he would’ve hung around to get back on the NFL radar.
1. Morris Claiborne — CB — Wonderlic Score: 4
Morris Claiborne was basically given a pass on his awful wonderlic test score because he was diagnosed to have a learning disability associated with reading. Claiborne was such a hot prospect in the 2012 draft, that he was actually traded up for– the Cowboys moved up from 14th to 6th in the draft to snatch him. So far not so good for Claiborne, who had a tepid rookie season, only 55 tackles and 1 interception, and lost the starting job in 2013 due to a shoulder injury which he tried to play through rather than let heal. Claiborne assuredly has to play much better this season to keep himself from being labeled anything other than a bust, given his fully guaranteed $16.4 million, four-year contract he signed as a rookie. Some warning signs shot up, as he declared that he “blew the test off” in regards to the wonderlic because he believed it had no relevance to football. Well Morris, the brain is kind of the most important facet of the modern human no matter the life path, so good luck with that approach.
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