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Trubisky’s Wonderlic Doesn’t Matter

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The NFL has a number of strange rituals. Perhaps one of the most ridiculous is its continued use of a test that just doesn’t matter.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Minicamp Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Trubisky came to the Bears from North Carolina, where he participated in an offense that made heavy use of the Run/Pass Option system. As a result, he was not exactly in the dreaded spread offense. Instead, he was in a system that gave him “bundles” of plays and was commonly asked to make a read either before the snap or after the snap, albeit with a simplified choice menu compared to some pro-style systems. Anyone who wants to be worried about Trubisky’s ability to transition to the NFL could spend some wakeful hours worrying about whether or not RPO offenses are enough like NFL offenses to make it easier or if they are just different enough to cause problems. This could be added to his limited number of starts and suddenly there’s fertile ground for either comfort (he actually played in 31 games) or panic (but he didn’t call his own plays, really).

One thing Bears fans (and anyone else) can dismiss readily, however, is whether or not his Wonderlic score matters. It doesn’t. His “25” is not indicative of much. As of 2014, it would have been a hair above the 24 that was the average for his position, but that is almost irrelevant. As Harvard Sports Analysis concludes after their own study:

Not a single variable tested had a correlation above .2 (or below -.2), suggesting a minimal or very weak correlation between quarterbacks’ Wonderlic scores and the other variables at best.

Emphasis added. Being generous, they suggest that there might not be a problem with the test, exactly, but rather that intelligence might not be essential to the quarterback position. However, they do double down on their findings:

regardless, it’s very clear that the Wonderlic isn’t, and shouldn’t be considered, a good predictor of quarterback performance. At the end of the day, scouts are better off watching tape, pro days, and the combine rather than reading test scores.

Harvard Sports Analysis is really just repeating findings from other places. One of the best studies (performed by Lyons, Hoffman, and Michel and published in 2009) is behind a paywall, so I won’t link it here. However, it examined more than 700 players across multiple variables and concluded that it “possessed a near-zero relationship with performance across positions”.

One reason for this is because the test’s ability even to measure intelligence is fairly sketchy. In another article in the research journal Intelligence (any guess what it’s focus is?), the researchers noted that:

Despite the widespread popularity of the Wonderlic Personnel Test, evidence of its validity as a measure of intelligence and personnel selection is limited.

And

While the Wonderlic is a widely used personnel selection tool, its relationship to intelligence has remained unclear.

Much of the discussion is technical, but it comes down to the fact that tests of cognitive ability often measure only one aspect of the ability, and frequently it’s not the aspect that is important. Consequently, they find that even saying the Wonderlic measures intelligence, instead of just a kind of memory, is really difficult to support. That, ultimately, could be why there’s so little correlation between performance on the test and performance in the NFL.

Many things will impact #10’s future performance. However, it’s really unlikely his Wonderlic score will be one of them.

Time to worry about something else.