Robert Jones, a star linebacker from East Carolina University, went to a pay phone outside the 1992 NFL Scouting Combine—the pre-draft ritual where professional football teams take stock of the college talent—and called his mother.
“Ma,” he said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
A top scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, overheard the call. “Robert,” he asked, “what the hell is going on?”
“That question really threw me,” Jones replied.
The New York Giants had asked him a tough one: If he were on a capsizing boat with his mother and daughter and could save only one, which would he choose?
Besides dashing forty yards, bench-pressing 225 pounds, and weaving between cones, would-be professional football players must submit to full psychological workups before teams are willing to take the multimillion-dollar gamble of drafting them. Thomas, whose scouting reports are disseminated to twenty-seven of the thirty-two NFL teams, evaluates players by every means available: family history, GPA, game film—he even checks the police blotter. He also compiles his own statistics to flesh out the widely available numbers, comparing receptions, for instance, to the total number of passes a wide receiver was thrown and the strength of the opposing defensive secondary.
The Wonderlic Personnel Test
How would you score? Try your hand at a sample test.
With playbooks approaching phone-book heft, however, intelligence has become a key measure of NFL draftees. The standard measure is the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a general intelligence exam taken by 2.5 million people seeking all types of work each year. It was first used in the NFL more than thirty years ago, and it has since been adopted by every team. (Most clubs also administer their own tests. Jones was forced to choose between mother and daughter on the New York Giants’ nearly-500-question personality profile, which can take up to three hours to take and is followed up with psychiatric screenings.) The Wonderlic rewards quick thinking and problem-solving: the taker has twelve minutes to answer fifty questions of increasing difficulty, from no-brainers—“the ninth month of the year is?”—to algebraic stumpers.