Wonderlic: My grandfather’s test works in NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — After all this time, Charles Wonderlic still can’t help but be amazed that his family name is synonymous with NFL talent evaluation.

His grandfather, E.F. “Al” Wonderlic, didn’t have a keen eye for judging the quality of a quarterback’s throwing motion or a cornerback’s backpedaling skills. He did, however, know a thing or two about gauging one’s intelligence, and in 1937 he devised a written examination that does precisely that.

In 1975, the NFL began giving potential draft picks what has since simply become known as “The Wonderlic,” a timed and proctored assessment that measures an individual’s ability to learn, understand instructions and solve problems. The questions cover areas such as word and number comparisons, simple math, sentence forming, and graphs.

Charles was 12 at the time, so he didn’t quite grasp the significance of it all. But while making his annual visit to the NFL Scouting Combine — where college prospects are taking the test, along with being put through a battery of physical drills to help determine their draft worthiness — he reflected on its staying power.

“It works,” Wonderlic said. “People don’t do things for long periods of time that don’t work. Things don’t last 35 years for happenstance.”

NFL talent evaluators like “The Wonderlic” because it can be conducted with relative quickness and efficiency. However, through the years, it has weathered a fair amount of controversy. From time to time, critics have challenged its validity, asking a basic question: Why would anyone care how bright a football player is, especially one who has the physical qualities necessary to play the game at the highest level?

“Go ask any of the players if they think that intelligence matters on the field,” Wonderlic said. “What do you think they’re going to say, no? Of course it does. There are different jobs that have different mental demands.

“In this case, we’re not saying that we’re looking to hire the brightest people necessarily. We say there’s a certain amount of intelligence necessary to perform. More is better, usually, but people learn at different speeds.”

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