The Wonderlic test was conceived in 1936 to measure a person's general cognitive ability in the areas of vocabulary, reasoning, and math skills. It was first implemented in the NFL by Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry in the 1970s, who saw the test as a useful tool in predicting player performance. Following his lead, the league added the Wonderlic to their pre-draft assessment procedures at the annual scouting combine for prospective players.
Since then, the test has had its share of advocates and detractors. There have been plenty of athletes who scored well and then flamed out in the NFL, just as there have been many who logged lower scores and went on to have great careers. Supporters of the Wonderlic are quick to point out that it is just a fraction of a larger examination, and that other combine tests like the bench press, the vertical jump, and the 40-yard dash are just as wide-ranging when predicting individual success at the pro level.
Nonetheless, the Wonderlic remains an interesting benchmark in the scouting combine routine, and it's fun to examine some of the athletes who have posted particularly high scores and look at what they've since accomplished in the NFL.
Due to the nature of the position, many of the Wonderlic's highest scores have come from quarterbacks. Many call it the most important position in professional sports, simply because nowhere else is one athlete expected to orchestrate 11 offensive players while also taking into account 11 defensive players trying to stop him.
The highest ever quarterback score on the Wonderlic belongs to Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former journeyman who has found new life as the starter for the New York Jets. Harvard-educated, it should come as no surprise that Fitzpatrick posted a near-perfect mark of 48.
OTHER NOTABLE NAMES:
Blaine Gabbert – 42
Alex Smith – 40
Aaron Rodgers – 35
Tom Brady – 33
Peyton Manning – 28
Of course, quarterbacks aren't the only athletes in the NFL expected to perform at a high intellectual level in addition to a physical one.
Wide receivers need to memorize extensive route trees and know how to adapt to opposing coverage. Tight ends also need to learn routes but must often function capably as run-blockers as well. And when a television analyst comments on a running back's "vision" when finding the hole or making the right cut to exploit a crease in a defense, he is referring to that back's speed of decision-making.
Similarly, players on the defensive side of the ball need to possess a high football IQ in order to achieve long-term NFL success. Linebackers must be versatile masters of when to blitz, when to stop the run, and when to drop back to defend the pass. Safeties and corners are responsible for defending large swaths of open field, and even mammoth tackles on the line need to know whether their focus should be on springing their block, diving for a tailback's ankles, or batting down a quarterback's pass over their heads.
Calvin Johnson is an excellent example of a player with the perfect blend of physical and mental strengths. Already gifted with exceptional size, strength, leaping ability, and hands, the Georgia Tech product also registered a high score of 41 when he took the Wonderlic.
OTHER NOTABLE NAMES:
Pat McInally – 50
Mike Mamula – 49
Benjamin Watson – 48
Kevin Curtis – 48