The NFL Wonderlic is a standardized problem solving test administered to all players during the scouting combine and is the primary quantitative metric used to assess a player’s cognitive ability. But is this score a good predictor of success for quarterbacks in the league?
Here are Wonderlic and NFL Passer Rating scores for 72 quarterbacks dating from 1970 to 2011.
While there is a positive relationship between the two metrics, the data is fairly scattered. There is a correlation of .18 and a linear trend-line would follow y = 0.1933x + 75.701.
Looking at on field performance, the top most data point is current Packers and former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The rightmost and “smartest” is Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard, Texans), while the left and bottom most is Vince Evans, who attended USC and played ball for the Bears in the ‘70s. I’ve added a few more names for context.
There seems to be a sort of smartness threshold, where the best NFL quarterbacks need to be at least this smart to see success. But once a QB passes that threshold (around a score of 25), their additional smartness has little to no effect on success on the field . Quarterbacks in the top 25% of Wonderlic scores have a StdDev of 11.3 when it comes to passer rating, while it is only 7 for those in the bottom 75% — so the relationship is less varied at lower Wonderlic values. Nobody with a Wonderlic under 15 has a passer rating above 90 (I’m looking at you Kordell Stewart).
It should be noted that the NFL does not publish Wonderlic scores and this data was borrowed from NFLstatanalysis.net: http://www.nflstatanalysis.net/2011/03/qb-wonderlic-scores.html