Odd Correlation Between Off-Field Incidents And Wonderlic Scores


The polarizing ESPN radio host, Colin Cowherd, made an interesting point on his radio program Monday morning. We examine if Wonderlic scores are indeed a predictor of future off-field problems.

In the wake of the recent Aaron Hernandez murder case, a watchful eye has been cast across the NFL on off-field issues. Everyone is chiming in on how a team can potentially foresee problems with young players that they invest a heavy amount of money, as well as the hopes of the future of their franchise. Obviously, there are some obvious signs, such as a previous criminal record, but a little further investigation may point to another area.

On his nationally-syndicated radio program this past Monday, ESPN's Colin Cowherd noted what I thought was an interesting correlation between Wonderlic scores and off-field incidents. On the subject, Cowherd said (via The Daily Caller):

The Wonderlic Test is used by groups, including the military, to assess mental aptitude in a time-pressured setting. For example, the median score in 1983 for a systems analyst was a 32, a reporter was 28, a security guard was 17, and a 10 was the bare-minimum for being literate.

"There have 27 NFL players arrested this offseason," Cowherd said. a lot of players … Now there have been 655 guys, since 2000, arrested in this league … Here’s what I really noticed, out of all these arrests, this is the one thing I go back to: What positions have been arrested the most and what positions have been arrested the least? Well, arrested the most: Wide receiver, defensive back, defensive line, and linebacker. Those guys get arrested the most. Who gets arrested the least? Tight ends, offensive line and quarterbacks. Well, what do you know, the lowest Wonderlic scores get arrested the most and the highest Wonderlic scores get arrested the least. So dumb guys get arrested more often. Shocker."

In the past couple of years, an argument began to surface that the test was "culturally-biased" and that it ensured that African-American athletes would be predisposed to a lower score. Cowherd goes a different direction here and looks at positions. Though using a stereotype himself, Cowherd uses the argument that quarterbacks and offensive linemen are usually viewed as the smartest players on a team, thus they usually have a higher Wonderlic score and stay out of trouble.

Though the Bengals have shed their image of staying away from troubled players of late, the stigma of them taking chances on sketchy characters remains from nearly a decade ago. For instance, two of the most troubled players in the Marvin Lewis era were wide receiver Chris Henry (RIP) and linebacker Odell Thurman. According to reports, Henry scored a nine out of 50 on the test and Thurman a 12--two of the lowest in that draft class. Conversely, quarterback Alex Smith had the second-highest score with a 40. This seemingly points to a little bit of accuracy with Cowherd's theory.

Obviously, there are bound to be exceptions, such as Frank Gore, who had the lowest score with a six in 2005. In case you haven't followed him much, Gore has had a pretty clean career off of the football field. Still, Adam Jones' score of 13 is also incriminating.

There are likely a lot of exceptions within those 655 arrests over the past 13 years, but maybe Cowherd is on to something. It's an interesting bit of food for thought that teams may want to look into a bit more frequently.

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