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Why does the NFL Combine use the Wonderlic Test?

Since the second half of the 20th century, the Wonderlic test has been used to help aide in personnel selection, and ease the burden of finding the perfect candidate for a certain role by quantifying traits deemed to have influence over a person’s ability to perform under pressure. The unique ability of the Wonderlic test to shine a light on a person’s performance under pressure was the reason the NFL adopted its use. An interesting note about the Wonderlic test was that it was designed in a way that allowed only five percent of test-takers to complete the test in its entirety before time ran out. With that, it’s also important to state that if only five percent of people that attempt the Wonderlic complete it, an even smaller number of people manage to score favorably and complete the test on time. That particular scenario - having to account for many variables in a short amount of time, and then judge the best course of action from only a few moments on visual and verbal stimulus is the reason the NFL makes potential draft picks take the Wonderlic test. It allows scouts to assess a player’s ability to successfully make difficult decisions time and time again, under pressure from an invading defensive/offensive line, with the roar of a stadium masking a charging players footsteps, and players running in and out of cover around scattered opponents. When you consider how much has to happen in the first three seconds of a play, it’s no wonder why franchises (and their coaches) want to know how their favorite draft pick will do in situations they’ve never experienced before, when there is a lot at stake, and their decision may decide the fate of the team at a championship.

When players arrive at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, they are tested on their ability to perform on the field, run a 40-yard dash, leap to incredible heights, and catch players in awesome displays of agility and strength. However, if they are soon to be included in a team with other elite athletes, it is important that everyone know how to communicate and anticipate one another’s actions, since a single play can evolve as it is being run, coaches must rely on their player’s intuition to carry them through moments of confusion and difficulty. There is a subtle correlation between the strategic significance of a player’s position, and their score on the Wonderlic test. The highest scoring positions in the NFL are Offensive Tackle, Center, Quarterback, and Guard, which also happen to be the more strategically important positions within a team. If a team’s Quarterback and Center are bad at communicating their intentions, or a Guard has a hard time deciphering how an opponent plan on invading their defenses, the team as a whole suffers.

Also, certain scores can indicate whether or not a player will do well in the face of authority, such as that from a coach or referee. Scores that are too high, or too low, can indicate a slight propensity for deviating from the norm, which might be an undesirable quality in a player that is expected to work as part of a team. Whether or not this is a perfect way of determining someone’s behavior in a team is still out for review, but the NFL does not seem poised to get rid of the Wonderlic test anytime soon, so its merits are reinforced yet.

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