Tests only tell so much about Lamar Jackson | Tim Sullivan

If the leaks are to be believed, Lamar Jackson’s Wonderlic score is lower than that of the typical janitor.

If scientific studies are to be believed, however, quantifiable brainpower will have little bearing on his future in professional football.

The University of Louisville’s Heisman Trophy winner reportedly scored a 13 (out of 50) on the Wonderlic Personnel Test administered at the National Football League’s Scouting Combine. And though that score would be alarmingly low for a chemist or an engineer, numerous studies have found no connection between the test and the ability to complete passes.

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“To be honest, I don’t see why teams would be using this piece of information because it’s not correlated to anything,” said Elon University’s Brian Lyons, co-author of a 2009 study on the impact of intelligence on NFL performance. “…It should not be taken into consideration.”

U of L’s Frank Kuzmits and the late Arthur Adams reached a similar conclusion based on their review of the Wonderlic scores of skill-position players between 1999 and 2004.

“In general,” they wrote, “the findings suggest that WPT scores are not related to draft order, salary, games played, or quarterback/running back/wide receiver rating. Further the WPT scores do not appear to be related to whether or not a player is drafted. Thus ‘smarter’ as measured by the WPT does not seem to translate into ‘better.’ “

And yet…

More than 80 years since E.F. Wonderlic devised a 50-question, 12-minute multiple-choice test to measure cognitive abilities under tight time constrains, subsequent versions of his test remain a staple of NFL draft evaluations. Their validity, meanwhile, remains an annual source of debate.

The bottom-quartile scores of Hall of Fame quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw (16), Dan Marino (16) and Jim Kelly (15) are often cited as evidence of the Wonderlic’s wobbly reliability. Conversely, the eight active quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl have reportedly averaged 30.5 on the Wonderlic, a score superior to that of more than 85 percent of those who have taken the test.

Though Kuzmits cautions the Super Bowl statistic, “doesn’t seem to be a sample size that would be significant,” it also suggests something other than coincidence.

“While the Wonderlic isn’t perfect for all positions – no type of testing is – the Wonderlic 100% matters for quarterbacks,” Clay Travis wrote in a 2017 essay for Outkick The Coverage. “…Scoring high doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be a Super Bowl winner – hello, Ryan Fitzpatrick – but scoring low does make it significantly more likely that you won’t be one.”

Fitzpatrick, who has played for seven NFL teams since he competed collegiately at Harvard, owns the highest reported Wonderlic score of any quarterback, 48. Eli Manning (39), Aaron Rodgers (35) and Tom Brady (33) have also scored in the top 10 percent.

Reportedly, the only NFL prospect who has posted a perfect score of 50 was Pat McInally, who played at Harvard and later punted for the Cincinnati Bengals. Company President Charlie Wonderlic, grandson of the test’s creator, said 10,000 companies now use the test worldwide as part of the hiring process and that the last 250,000 results had yielded only one perfect score.

“No one is promoting or suggesting that IQ is the only indicator of success on the field,” Wonderlic said. “…I think the significance (of the score) grows in the difference in what is expected. If you use a thermometer to measure temperature and it is plus or minus 4 degrees (from normal), you ask, ‘Is this going to be a problem that we should move on from or do we need to know more?’ “

Former New York Giants general manager George Young once told the Philadelphia Daily News a low Wonderlic score would cause him to look more closely, talking to coaches, examining school records and possibly using alternative tests to assess a player’s ability to learn.

“In terms of how teams use it, it varies a lot by team,” said Brian Hoffman, a University of Georgia psychology professor and a co-author of the Lyons’ study. “All teams consider it less than, say, college performance or performance in the combine. Some don’t look at it at all.

“I don’t imagine that a whole lot of teams weigh it heavily. If someone scores below a certain level, there’ll be a red flag, but generally, I don’t think it has an impact.”

Since a score of 13 would fall in the 13th percentile – the average janitor scores a 14 according to wonderlictestsample.com – some teams may wonder about Jackson’s ability to absorb an NFL playbook and/or the amount of effort he expended on the Wonderlic.

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“The score, if it is true, could be reflective of a multitude of things,” Lyons said. “It could be he was lacking motivation to take the test. Players know this test doesn’t matter. I would imagine that would decrease the motivation to take the test seriously. (Or) It could be an undiagnosed learning disability.”

Since he has thus far resisted hiring an agent, Jackson may not have been exposed to the practice tests many draft prospects take as part of their preparation for the NFL combine. That said, since most mock drafts continue to project Jackson as a mid-to-late first-round selection, his test scores may seem trivial.

Lonnie Galloway, U of L’s co-offensive coordinator, pointed to Jackson’s command of Bobby Petrino’s sophisticated playbook and his knack for adjusting to different defensive schemes with the appropriate audible as evidence that he is prepared for the pros.

“All I can say about Lamar Jackson is he won the Heisman, gained 9,000 yards (passing); he’s performed very well in three years here,” Galloway said. “I would draft Lamar Jackson. I think Lamar Jackson will be a great quarterback.”

To date, it has been pretty dumb to bet against him.

Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650; tsullivan@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/tims

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