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More Greatness

He may not be the best quarterback, but it seems that Ryan Fitpatrick, conforming to stereotype, is the smartest quarterback in the NFL:

Until Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick's claim to fame was that he is the second player in NFL history to register a perfect score of 50 on the Wonderlic test – the intelligence test administered by NFL teams at the combine before the draft each season. . . .

Not impressed? First, Fitz finished his test in nine minutes, rather than the alotted 12. Second, according to the same report on NFL.com, the average score in the United States (the test is commonly administered to prospective employees in industries of all kinds) is 22. The average chemist scores a 31, the run-of-the-mill custodian registers a 14, and NFL players come in at about 21, on average.

It's worth noting that, contrary to the "dumb jock" stereotype, professional football players are of roughly average intelligence. At any given college the atheletes are going to be less smart than the non-athletes, but compared to the population as a whole there's no difference.

November 29, 2005 | Permalink


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During last year's draft Mel Kiper stated that Utah QB Alex Smith was the smartest player to ever enter the NFL. Not only was Smith not the smartest player even in this draft (according to the Wonderlic), he's been outplayed by the person who perhaps IS the smartest. Smith was the first QB taken in the draft, Fitzpatrick the last. Two big strikes against Mel.

Posted by: Mean Gene | Nov 29, 2005 12:15:56 PM

Wouldn't the fact that Smith was taken so far ahead of Fitzpatrick tend to make attacking Kiper, rather than the entire personell evaluating complex of the NFL, silly? If he's worse, or no better tham, those whom he criticizes, that's one thing; if everyone discounted an Ivy QB uncertain to be drafted, Kiper seems to be the wrong person to critique.

Posted by: Jeff H | Nov 29, 2005 12:41:10 PM

I bet Dartmouth's Jay Fiedler is smarter.

Also - is there a link to this story?

Posted by: Al | Nov 29, 2005 1:11:22 PM

What do you mean, "contrary to" the stereotype? At any given college, the jocks will be the dumbest in any given class, and the dumb classes will contain a disproportionate number of jocks.

Posted by: JR | Nov 29, 2005 1:52:25 PM

It's worth noting that, contrary to the "dumb jock" stereotype, professional football players are of roughly average intelligence.

True enough, but what is interesting would be the variance of it. One Fitpatrick at 50 allows 3 guys at 10 for a mean at 20.

Other thing is: the test is biased by who is taking it. It is used in many industry here means that you have an industry which require to know that the people it uses are not too dumb. Well, if you have to ask... For instance, this take out all knowledge industry, where you can assess this on other quantity, say the persons writing. So being average on this test might mean being pretty dumb.

Posted by: cedichou | Nov 29, 2005 1:54:44 PM

True enough, but what is interesting would be the variance of it. One Fitpatrick at 50 allows 3 guys at 10 for a mean at 20.

Just how many geniuses do you think there are in the NFL?

For instance, this take out all knowledge industry, where you can assess this on other quantity, say the persons writing.

Clearly you are great at sports.

Posted by: dumb jock | Nov 29, 2005 5:21:18 PM

Peyton Manning is easily the smartest QB in the NFL.

Posted by: jim | Nov 29, 2005 6:30:05 PM

Just to explain to 'dumb jock':

-when google or microsoft hires you, you don't take this Wonderlic test. The set of 'people who take the test' is not a valid sample so you can say that being average in the test is being average over the whole population. If you have to take the test, it is because one has doubts about your ability to solve it, thus a strong bias downwards.

-the test itself is skewing the result of the NFL average up, as it is being used for selecting the players in the draft. Between two players in the 7th round of equal athletic value, the team would pick the one with the higher test (unless they view 'too smart' as an issue).

-the 'dumb jock' stereotypes comes from the fact that the average NFL player attends college. The wonderlic average of the college educated person is higher (the chemist mentioned above might not be too un-representative, around 30). Against the sample 'college educated', the football player fares lower, thus 'dumb jock' is proved, not disproved here.

-Matt stated something equivalent to the last point above, except he got it wrong: athletes in general fare as well as the non-athletes on campus. There are some data on this. It is just the football players (to be accurate: the scholarship athletes). Most athletes on most campuses perform academically as well.

Posted by: cedichou | Nov 29, 2005 6:44:32 PM

Hm, the Wikipedia entry on the Wonderlic claims that Fitzpatrick's 50 is a myth, but that he did score a 38 while finishing the test in 9 minutes. (And Alex Smith scored a 40.) Looks like there's plenty of conflicting information out there about this.

Posted by: Dave | Nov 29, 2005 6:47:48 PM

Do baseball or basketball players take the test?

Posted by: blah | Nov 29, 2005 7:08:00 PM

If I'm the agent I'm bringing in a Wonderlic test prep specialist for a few hours.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 29, 2005 9:08:21 PM

The conclusion about college athletes is off, a little. I would guess that the college athletes who go on to the NFL are smarter than an average college athlete. Just a guess, but intelligence might assist playbook memorization and training discipline. So the 21 for NFL athletes is better than I would expect from most of the football factory scholar athletes. So that's another sample selection effect, on top of the Wunderlic-in-dumb-industries effect mentioned by Cedichou.

I read that offensive linemen have the highest average Wunderlic scores. Maybe it's because of the discipline required to wait for the snap count when a 300-pound man wants to smash your face in from one foot away.

(Incidentally, I went to the SEC school that prides itself on...graduation rates.)

Posted by: Monkey Daddy | Nov 29, 2005 10:43:47 PM

Um, you misspelled "athlete."

Posted by: Death Poodle | Nov 30, 2005 12:02:53 AM

According to the Wonderlic wikipedia entry, Fitz actually scored a 38.

Posted by: matt | Nov 30, 2005 1:21:23 AM

Is this test online somewhere that we could take it ourselves?

Posted by: Emily | Nov 30, 2005 11:44:48 AM

Real greatness: more baby panda pictures. This time, without scary devil-panda.


Posted by: TJ | Nov 30, 2005 12:14:16 PM

There is a sample Wonderlic over on ESPN, just a Google away. You will be shocked at how simple it is.

Matt is just a few pounds, inches and seconds in the 40 from being an NFL'er with a 50 on his Wonderlic.

All joking aside, good jocks, even those not good at book learnin', are intelligent in ways that your average Nobel laureates are not. Reflexes are great, but the really good ones are capable of anticipating the behavior of their opponents and teammates within the rules of the game and the constraints of the physical space, and even influencing their behavior. It's a form of real time, high speed social intelligence. To my mind the Einstein of the hardwoods was Magic Johnson. And Peyton gets my vote these days on the gridiron.

To my mind this explains the 'garbage man' concept in sports like soccer, basketball and hockey: seemingly under-athletic competitors who get the job done.

I have always thought the Wonderlic was an amazingly crude tool to measure this. I also imagine the wonderlic matters most for the guys at the top of the list, therefore is an indicator of the requirements of the Qb/OL jobs, i.e. lots of study and preparation. I imagine Lawrence Taylor did not exactly ace his Wonderlic.

Posted by: Nat | Nov 30, 2005 6:20:37 PM

This site seems to indicate he took it more than once and scored 50 the third time:


Posted by: Mike | Nov 30, 2005 6:21:59 PM

There is a sample Wonderlic over on ESPN

That's awesome - thanks. I can't believe I got one of the answers wrong.

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2005 8:07:35 PM

"To my mind the Einstein of the hardwoods was Magic Johnson"

I saw Magic make one of the most brilliant decisions I've ever seen in the final seconds of a Western Conference playoff game. The Lakers were up by one, five seconds left, and Magic had just come up with the ball. It was a natural situation for the opponent to foul.

MAGIC THREW THE BALL AWAY INTO THE BACKCOURT, and time expired as the ball slowly rolled beyond the baseline....

Posted by: Bill Brock - Chicago | Dec 2, 2005 2:48:47 AM

The 50 is apocryphal. I've read interviews where he admits that he got a 38 (still quite high). I think the combination of his being a Harvard grad and finishing the test quickly started some rumors before the scores were even released. He said that he heard he a got a 50 before he even found out what his real score was.

Posted by: Alex | Dec 2, 2005 10:44:05 AM

"the 'dumb jock' stereotypes comes from the fact that the average NFL player attends college"

Well, no, the dumb jock stereotype comes from dumb jocks in grade school and high school, many of whom don't go on to college or the NFL.

Posted by: Jon H | Dec 2, 2005 3:38:36 PM

Most colleges boast athlete graduation rates that exceed the general student population. Additionally, most colleges are not athlete factories, and those that are often only have 1 or 2 "big time" programs. Texas, Michigan, Stanford and others (no offense met if I didn't mention your school) are the exceptions, not the rule. Stanford is competitive in a huge variety of sports, not just the ones we watch on TV.

Most student athletes, including those on scholarship, have better than average GPAs and higher graduation rates. Say want you want about football or hoops, the fact is that most programs emphasize graduation, and the high-profile non-graduation rates of some programs don't affect this fact. Additionally, the superstars that are "dumb" are treated differently for the very reason that they are superstars. Not the best situation, but one that the rest of us seem willing to tolerate.

As an aside, would you rather have an elected official who plalyed on a team or excelled in an individual sport, or one who was a cheerleader in college?

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