The Wonderlic And Morris Claiborne

One of the bits of news to break earlier this week was a report that LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne reportedly scored a 4 on the Wonderlic Personnel Test. Subsequent reports indicate he has a learning disability that affected the score. While 4 is an incredibly low score, it is worth noting that Frank Gore reportedly scored a 6 on the Wonderlic, again due to a learning disability.

I use the term reportedly because any scores that come out are leaked as nobody ever officially releases the scores. It is believed that teams will sometimes leak a Wonderlic score to scare off teams ahead of them on a particular prospect. The NFL has warned teams about doing this, but there is unlikely to be a smoking gun the league can use against a team.

The whole issue raises a variety of questions about the Wonderlic and the value it provides to teams. Three academics put together a study of the Wonderlic (PDF) and they had some interesting, albeit questionable results. Before even discussing the results, there are a couple of significant red flags on this study. The first is that the Wonderlic scores utilized in the study are all based on leaked information. Wonderlic information is supposed to be confidential, but obviously some information gets out. One problem with that is it can often be proven to be inaccurate, as we saw when different Vince Young scores leaked out.

The second red flag is that for many of these athletes, part of their draft prep process is to take some version of the test over and over again to prepare for the real thing. That would seem to skew results for some players.

While the results would appear to be a bit questionable, one part of the results raises an interesting question, even if the results are skewed to some extent. The study looked at the correlation between Wonderlic score and position. One of their hypotheses was that a position like quarterback would have a higher Wonderlic score because of the required processing of information.

The study found little to no correlation between most positions and Wonderlic score, but it did find a negative correlation for the tight end and defensie backs. I'm not sure I can really explain why there is a negative correlation for the tight end position. It strikes me as a sufficiently complex position with the combination of pass blocking, run blocking and route running. However, given the reactive and often instinctual nature of the cornerback position, I could see why maybe it pays not to be one to overthink things. That might not apply as much to safeties, but I can see it applying to cornerbacks.

It is worth noting (with the red flag asterisk, of course) that there was no relationship between Wonderlic and where a player is selected in the NFL Draft. This would not seem to require a lot of research to figure out. After all, the Wonderlic ends up being just one piece of a large puzzle in the draft process. The test has questionable application to the NFL, but it is one extra piece for teams as they prepare to invest millions of dollars in a first round pick.

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