It doesn’t take a genius to be a great quarterback:
The underlying assumption of the Wonderlic test is that players who are better at math and logic problems will make better decisions in the pocket. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable conjecture. No other position in sports requires such extreme cognitive talents. A successful quarterback will need to memorize hundreds of offensive plays and dozens of different defensive formations. They’ll need to spend hours studying game tape of their opponents so that, when they’re on the field, they can put that knowledge to use. In many instances, quarterbacks are even responsible for changing the play at the line of scrimmage. They are like a coach with shoulder pads.
As a result, NFL teams start to get nervous whenever a quarterback scores too far below the average for the position, which is 25. (In comparison, the average score for computer programmers is 28. Janitors, on average, score 15, as do running backs.) But here’s the funny thing: the Wonderlic test, at least for QBs, is famously useless; the NFL is full of quarterbacks who achieved success despite bombing the test. Dan Marino scored 14. Brett Favre’s Wonderlic score was 22, while Randall Cunningham and Terry Bradshaw both scored 15. All of these quarterbacks have been, or will be, inducted into the Hall of Fame. (In recent years, Favre has surpassed many of the passing records once held by Marino, such as most passing yards and touchdowns in a career.) Furthermore, several quarterbacks with unusually high Wonderlic scores⎯players like Alex Smith and Matt Leinart, who both scored above 35 on the test and were top ten picks in the 2005 NFL draft⎯have struggled in the NFL, largely because they make poor decisions on the field.
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