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I recently took a Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test at a job interview. It consisted of logic, mathematics and grammar. The NFL uses this exam as a part of their draft analysis. I can understand why I was asked to complete the assessment for the sales position I applied for. I'm not certain how it applies as a predictor of a football player's success. When did the NFL implement this assessment and how is it used in the analysis of NFL talent?

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When did the NFL implement this assessment?

During the 1970s when Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, believed it could be used as a predictor of pro success(1).

How is it used in the analysis of NFL talent/applied to the draft process?

This is used in analysis to measure aptitude. Some positions may evaluate its usefulness (eg, a quarterback's ability to read defenses on the fly) more than others (eg, a cornerback reacting to a ball thrown or a receiver's movement).

However, studies have shown that there is not a strong correlation between a player's Wonderlic score and his NFL performance(2). In fact, they present a negative correlation for some positions. Thus, it can be surmised that other factors (team quality, player development, character, coaching, etc.) may have more significance on NFL performance than the Wonderlic score.

For quarterbacks:

  • Donovan McNabb scored a 14 on the Wonderlic and had a nine-year run with the Philadelphia Eagles in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and played in five NFC Championship games. McNabb had Andy Reid as coach throughout his time in Philadelphia.
  • Blaine Gabbert scored a 42 on the Wonderlic and is currently 5-22 as a starting quarterback. Gabbert had been coached by three different coaches during his three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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The NFL has used Wonderlic since 1968

Thats according to fox. It's used to measure cognitive intelligence, I'm not an expert in NFL but quarterbacks are essentially the same as playmakers in football (soccer), some playmakers have even been described as quarterbacks. One of the most important attributes for a playmaker is the ability to read and analyse situations and make the best decision in a matter of seconds. The wonderlic test is designed to test these types of attributes so for certain positions it does make sense for teams to test these abilities.

Why would it not be "relevant" to explore a million-dollar employee's cognitive intelligence?

I don't think it is any definite measure of success though as some players do play purely from instinct, they may not be even able to describe how or why they make the right decision.

I guess for quarterbacks this test makes sense though as there are a lot of plays to understand and memorise.

There has been a 2009 study by Brian D. Lyons, Brian J. Hoffman, and John W. Michel that found that Wonderlic scores failed to positively and significantly predict future NFL performance for any position (wikipedia)

Scoring too high can be as much of a problem as scoring too low. Football coaches want to command the locker room. Being smarter than the individual players makes that easier. Having a guy in the locker room who may be smarter than every member of the coaching staff can be viewed as a problem — or at a minimum as a threat to the egos of the men who hope to be able when necessary to outsmart the players, especially when trying in some way to manipulate them.

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Just to muddy up the results, there's plenty of evidence that the test is not taken too seriously. A very low score might mean there is concern about ability to take in the playbook. The team would then have to investigate this on a case by case basis. –  Oldcat May 8 at 0:12

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