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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Wonderlic Test and The NFL: Which Group Would You Take

I've posted before on the Wonderlic test as a predictor for how well football players might fare (as all NFL teams use this test to assess the aptitude of potential players), and The Wall Street Journal this past Friday wrote an article on "The NFL's Smartest Team" and posted Wonderlic composites for all NFL teams and composites for the 40 college teams that scored the highest. It's interesting stuff, to say the least.

What it might mean is another story.

Suppose I were to tell you that you could have two groups of teams to chose from in a bet. The best would be that you get one half of the NFL teams, and that you win if more teams from your groups rack up more "playoff points." For example, you get one point for each team that makes the playoffs, two for a playoff win in the opening round, three for a playoff win in the next round, five for a win of a conference title game and ten for a win of the Super Bowl. I'll give you two groups, and you tell me which one you'd pick:

Group A

Detroit Lions
Denver Broncos
Miami Dolphins
Pittsburgh Steelers
Atlanta Falcons
Indianapolis Colts
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Houston Texans
New Orleans Saints
Jacksonville Jaguars
Cincinnati Bengals
Washington Redskins
Kansas City Chiefs
Arizona Cardinals
Green Bay Packers

Group B

St. Louis Rams
Oakland Raiders
Tennessee Titans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
San Diego Chargers
Dallas Cowboys
Chicago Bears
Carolina Panthers
San Francisco 49ers
New York Jets
Cleveland Browns
New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills
Baltimore Ravens
Minnesota Vikings
Seattle Seahawks.

It's hard to say, isn't it (I would take Group A, for what it's worth)? What if I were to tell you that the teams in Group A finished in the bottom half of the Wonderlic testing for the NFL (with the lowest team on the list, Green Bay, having finished the worst) and the teams in Group A finished at the top, with the Rams having scored the highest composite score? What if I were also to tell you that going into this weekend, teams in the "dumber" group had a composite record of 26-19, while teams in the "smarter" group had a composite record of 20-27?

For example, defending Super Bowl champ New England comes in at #11, while Super Bowl runner-up Philadelphia comes in at #24. The 0-3 Raiders are #2, while the N.Y. Giants, whose QB, Eli Manning, had the highest Wonderlic of any QB, came in at #23. Yes, the so-far hapless Cardinals and Packers came in at #31 and #32 respective, while the darkhorse Super Bowl contender favorite Panthers are at #8. The Steelers are #19, and the Colts, with their brainy Manning at QB, finish at #22.

Last time I checked, you wanted the kids on the Math Team to keep the score, and the kids who were chosen first for kickball to do the tougher work. Which means, as with every other metric that can be used, the Wonderlic isn't the greatest predictor of future results. It may be true that the strong take from the weak and the smart take from the strong (to quote Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril), but it's also good to have tough guys who don't think too much who just go out there and get the job done. Have not enough "smart" guys on the team, and you probably make more than your fair share of mental mistakes. Have too many, and perhaps you get paralyzed by analysis.

Then again, I would love to see the Wonderlic scores of the front offices, head coaches and coordinators of all NFL teams. My guess is that when you sorted that list, the teams that score at the top are also the teams that have fared the best in recent years. After all, Pats coach Bill Belichick was a math major at DIII academic powerhouse Wesleyan. Which means that you need the right combination of brains and brawn every time, with some of the real brains on the sidelines and in the front offices, as well as in key positions on the field.

Yes, the WSJ also posted its list of the top 40 college teams (in terms of Wonderlic scores), and perennial also-ran Stanford tops the list, which goes to show you that while you may have a bunch of future MBAs on your roster, if they can't resolve gridiron conflicts with the violence allowed on a football field, they can't win. Put differently, my guess is that the Stanford folks can't lift as much weight or run as fast as their oft-maligned counterparts at USC (which, incidentally, finished a respectable #21). And before Stanford alums start blasting archrival Cal for lowering standards and just letting in anyone, the Golden Bears finished at #3. So, sacrificing two spots in this contest is well worth it to Cal, which has fielded a top-25 contender for the past several seasons. Rounding out the top 10, Purdue (#2), BYU (tied for #3 with Cal), UCLA (#5), Oregon (#6), Wisconsin (#7), Iowa (#8), Oregon State (#9) and Nebraska (#10). For those loyal readers out there, Notre Dame came it at #11, Michigan at #14, UVA at #15 and Penn State at #19.

So, NFL fans, let's watch this list closely and follow it until the end of the year, at which time I'll try to match it up with the results. Maybe there's a correlation, maybe there's not, and that's what makes this whole exercise so amusing.

I suppose somewhere out there is a professor of exercise science trying to create a composite score for fitness workouts for people who work in high-level academic pursuits and who is trying to theorize that the brainiest people who get the best results, most grants and most notoriety are the ones who are the most dedicated to their personal fitness. Just imagine the stats, that the Astrophysics Department of Cal Tech benches more than the Astrophysics Department of the University of Colorado, while the Harvard Math Department completes more laps in a swimming pool than the Math Department at Stanford, and then there's the Cal Physics Department, which plays fewer squash games per capita than the Princeton Physics Department.

Would it matter at all?

Let the debates begin!


Anonymous goodenchiladas said...

How did they come up with team averages? Was there any weight assigned to players based on playing time and/or position played? Does the long snapper, who plays in 6 to 12 plays a game and doesn't make many decisions count for as much in these rankings as the starting quarterback?

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good point. Likely the reported averages are actually not true indicators of the players actually on the field based on the relative sharing of the plays. I also query whether there are players who never see any(much) action included in the team avg. Some of these Wonderlic wonders may be riding the pine and having absolutely no impact on the outcome of the game.

11:53 AM  
Blogger James said...

I would venture to say that this test only really has any meaning for the skill postions. It shows if you can think and problem solve quickly that is something needed by Qbs, Rbs but not so much by a punter or O lineman.

Even then I dont know how much weight I would give to it but I do have one issue. How can anyone go to college for no less than 3 years and not score a 20 on this thing?

8:34 PM  
Blogger tommy said...

Man someone has gone on the deep end with this one. The have taken pre hire testing to a new level. Somebody in the mix is getting a few bucks for using Wonderlic. a bill of good very well sold, But unwisely used. The last time I checked Wonderlic was not a Sport psychology testin supplier. These assessments must always be reviewed by the developer and not let the folks taking the test make the call. But we know this now don't we.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This test is like any other, just a test. I know people that are book smart and dumb as a rock. I know people that score poor on tests but are genius level.
Most athletes are only in it for the money, all you have to do is listen some of them speak and it proves a college degree is nothing more than a purchased piece of paper.

7:37 PM  
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