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6 ways to make the NFL’s stupid Wonderlic thing actually good

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Let’s not only test intelligence in better ways, let’s get some good TV out of it.

laser tag Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

The NFL Combine is a pretty good show, but has one terrible part: the Wonderlic test. The intelligence assessment is obsolete, biased against various player demographics, and not particularly predictive of football success.

The public interacts with it in only one way: when some quarterback’s low score gets served up for mockery (perhaps this quarterback then wins NFL MVP two years later).

It’s useless, actively bad, and not even a contributor to the TV spectacle. We have suggestions that would both better measure everyone’s aptitude and — now let’s speak the NFL’s language — generate audience engagement for premium sports advertisers.

1. Have players solve the Cracker Barrel Tee Triangle, by Spencer

I’m a fundamentally dumb person. So I know smart when I see it. Is it something I can do? Yes? Then it is not something indicating real intelligence.

Real smarts — the kind one needs on the fly in a survival situation, or when trying to pick up an onrushing Nick Bosa — correlate strongly with things I can’t do. The list of intellectual challenges I can’t conquer is too vast to include, but they are all fundamentally the same. They involve numbers, space, and the ability to think deliberately through a process toward an intentional result, to remember many steps simultaneously.

They are best summed up by one beguiling game: the Cracker Barrel Tee Triangle.

This is all I need. If someone picks up the tee game and leaves just one on the first try, then they can concentrate with enough intellectual intensity to solve any football equation.

There’s not even a need for a new ratings system. It’s printed right there on the wood, and doesn’t have the nasty historical baggage of formal IQ testing. Keep your eg-no-ra-mooses. This team wants two-tee players or better, dammit, because the floor for this franchise is purty smart.

2. Keep the Wonderlic, but make everyone take it, by Ryan

When E.F. Wonderlic set out to create an intelligence test in the early 1930s, he did not have the NFL Draft in mind because it didn’t exist yet. The Navy and Oscar Mayer, amongst others, used the Wonderlic well before the NFL did, because the test isn’t specific to any one field.

So we’re going to embrace that.

That means owners and GMs and coaches take the Wonderlic. Fans want to know if the leaders have the mental wherewithal. Agents are taking it too. Athletes should find out how sharp the representatives getting a percentage of their contracts really are, right? We will test television hosts and Roger Goodell and, yes, the bloggers who write about the Combine. (Bloggers will be easy to convince, as they will take the Wonderlic in service of feeding our ever-hungry content gods.)

And when someone important turns in a clunker of a score, that coach or owner or commissioner will tell us the Wonderlic’s not that useful for judging their abilities anyway. But, well, Jimmy Haslam (theoretically, of course), you got a goddamn seven. And you can’t even make up for it by doing insanely athletic shit on a football field!

3. Replace the Wonderlic with a players vs. management laser tag match, by Jason

About 330 players get invited each year. That would nearly line up with a group of 10 staffers from all 32 NFL franchises, now wouldn’t it?

Awe-inspiring downtown Indianapolis is our battleground. Of course this begins in primetime with XFL-style camera saturation. Traditional laser tag rules apply.

Primarily, let’s make owners, general managers, and head coaches do some work for once in their lives. They’ll be joined by seven front-office staffers from each NFL team. This group will be tasked with defending Lucas Oil Stadium from invasion.

It’ll be a rout, and that’s the point. As our hard-working Fortnite experts storm the barn, the suits huddle in luxury boxes, every one of them having claimed the role of sniper.

(Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn take this too far, making ghillie suits of pompoms, a disqualifying fault under international laser tag code.)

Having played Rainbow Six several times before realizing I’m not smart at geometry, I encourage players to focus on seizing the Colts’ pro shop, cutting off the owners’ supply of raw cashflow. Wheezing from lack of body-replenishing capital, their surrender will soon follow.

4. Make everyone take a couple laps on a precision driving course, by Floyd

Taking a test in a conference room is fine, but there’s not a ton of pressure — and a football player works almost exclusively under pressure. Why not strap everyone into cars, put them on a road course with some obstacles, and do some timed, graded laps? The Wonderlic misses the element of danger (and isn’t televised), but we can solve that at high speed.

Think of it like a mixture of a NASCAR road course and one of those tests where fake pedestrians dart out in front of you. Maybe one of them looks like the Bud Knight. Hitting him costs you 10 points.

There’s a chance at disaster, an element of danger, and probably some really bad driving. To fulfill aptitude test obligations, we can have test proctors yell questions, but they have to sit in the passenger seat while they do it.

5. Ask every player to draw up a revised plan for the invasion of Stalingrad, by Alex

Every year, a story comes out about a prospect who answered a Combine question such as “Do you find your mother attractive?” or “When did you lose your virginity?” or “Would you kill your own dog if it meant your mom could live one month longer?” or “What is your murder weapon of choice?” I only made one of those up.

So let’s make a test that has as much to do with football ability. Let’s have every player draw up a detailed plan for how they would’ve handled the Nazi invasion of a key Russian outpost if they were Hitler. If you think this is weird, well, some football coaches love waxing hypothetical about Hitler.

So let’s see what you’ve got, prospects. How can an NFL GM know if a pulling guard will open holes in the line if I don’t know how he’d have opened holes in the resistance? How can we evaluate a quarterback’s ability to isolate a receiver one-on-one via pre-snap motion if we can’t evaluate how he would’ve done the same to Soviet supply lines?

Players who decline or fail will be marked as conscientious objectors, character risks, UDFA grades. NFL guys will love this.

6. I dunno, you could test football players’ knowledge of football, by Richard

I have a hot take that if you want to better understand how a football player might play football, you should ask him about football. That’s why the Combine should introduce a Football Aptitude Exam.

A lot of coaches are very serious about having players know the dimensions of a field, for instance. Gus Malzahn is one of many coaches who diagrams this in his actual playbook. Quiz players on their full understanding of space, particularly as the modern NFL becomes a more wide open game. An NFL wide receiver should absolutely know how far the numbers are from the sideline, etc., so they can understand the space they need to exploit.

That’s just one example. Do players know the NFL ball is slightly bigger than the college one? Perhaps quarterbacks should write an essay about how that will affect their throwing motion.

Think of the Dak Prescott coin toss fiasco. Maybe if Dak had recited this process during his Football Aptitude Exam, he would’ve later had it in his head that he’d need to be clear about his instructions to the ref.

You can quiz players on game administration stuff, like what happens when they catch a kickoff while standing out of bounds and any other quirky in-game rule get-around you can think of.

What else ya got?

Let’s throw some more ideas around.