NFL Player IQ by Position Played

by on July 18, 2008 at 2:59 pm in Sports | Permalink

"The closer you are to the ball, the higher your score."

Details here and here.  Hat tip to Kottke.

1 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 3:11 pm

No, that’s not quite the highest correlation involving NFL players’ Wonderlic IQ test scores. Let’s just say there’s a high correlation between the speed required to play the position and the average Wonderlic score.

2 Anonymous July 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Why do offensive lineman have distinctly higher IQ’s the other offensive players while the entire defensive side is fairly equitable? I guess the smarter players (physical skills held constant) are recruited for offense. And no intragroup dispersion within defense? Very strange.

3 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Not shown on this chart are two positions that are very near the top in average IQ: punter and placekicker.

Any theories on why that is?

4 Bob Montgomery July 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Excluding punters/kickers, I’d say the Wonderlic averages just reflect how much play/formation memorization each position requires.

QB, the most, followed by the offensive line. Next, running backs and wide receivers.

On the defensive side, there are no plays, only formations, and presumably they all have to memorize the same number of formations, so they all score the same.

5 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 3:36 pm

George Orwell said:

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

6 Dan Karney July 18, 2008 at 3:46 pm

In response the Steve Sailer:

In my opinion, kickers play a different game compared to the rest and thus cannot be compared.

It is generally believed that RBs run on instinct and athletic ability, if you have to “think” about where you are going to make your cut, you are already tackled.

Looking at the numbers, CBs have higher scores that RBs.

7 Paul July 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Could the same reason that there are test score differences between races be the explanation for the position/test score correlation. QB, offensive line, tight end tend to be less black players as a percentage relative to the other positions listed by above. Or am I mistaken on the latter point?

8 JohnZ July 18, 2008 at 4:08 pm

@Steve Sailer

While not getting paid as much as the other skill players, you do get paid enough that you lead a pretty comfortable lifestyle.

If you are very good at it your career will last longer than most other skill positions…or even if it doesn’t you won’t walk away with lingering physical problems.

You probably (in most cases) were never assured that you would be able to play at the next level, so you actually studied in high school/college and kept your brain sharp.

Sounds pretty smart to me.

9 meter July 18, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Paul, you walked right into Sailer’s trap, congrats. And here I thought we all had a tacit agreement not to encourage his race-baiting.

“Hmmhmmhm, what could there possibly be in common between NFL starting tailbacks and NFL starting cornerbacks. It’s one of those facts that never gets mentioned in the newspapers, but you can see it with your own lying eyes.”

Most of them went to Notre Dame or Miami? Just a guess.

Also, I’m not sure most offensive linemen are white.

10 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Ed asks:

“What’s the error on this measurement method? Is it possible that the variations in IQ by position are statistical fluctuations?”

I’ve been following this the whole decade and have seen reports from various years. They always vary somewhat, but the basic pattern is the same of which positions average the highest and which the lowest.

11 meter July 18, 2008 at 4:22 pm

OK, so on the correlation front shall we say that the laziest/least athletically talented people (those required to move the least) are the ones with the highest IQs?

12 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 4:29 pm

One thing to keep in mind is that top football players average pretty decent IQ scores, maybe 4-7 points higher than their demographic groups. So, the stereotype of the dumb jock is a relative, not an absolute, one. It originates in comparing college football players to the typical student at a football powerhouse school. Most big time football schools are state flagship universities with average SAT scores for freshmen in the 1100 to 1300 range (out of 400 to 1600).

A couple of caveats — the reported numbers may be, in some cases, the highest score attained on multiple tries at the Wonderlic. Another is that some football prospects study for the Wonderlic test, which might boost their scores a few points. And, finally, there are a few suspicious cases of gigantic increases in scores from first to second tries at the test, which raise concerns that, with millions of dollars at stake, a player’s agent might have nefariously worked some trick.

13 Yancey Ward July 18, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Holding and tackling the defense without it appearing to be holding and tackling takes a lot of intelligence.

14 Sol July 18, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I think this pattern was pretty much the same at my (all-white) high school when I played there. The offensive line was well-represented on the National Honor Society. Though there were a couple of OLs who were very average students, too, so it’s not like smarts were a strict requirement.

There wasn’t much significant reading of the defense’s scheme required, either, until I was a senior, so I don’t know if that flies as an explanation. On the other hand, we were more or less required to know who the entire offensive line were blocking for every play in the playbook, and to have at least an idea of where the ball was going too, so I think it took more work for us to learn the playbook.

At least at our level, there was shockingly little knowledge needed to play defensive line. Mostly just required being strong and alert.

15 Dan Karney July 18, 2008 at 5:06 pm

In response to Michael:

It was hyperbole on my part with regards to receivers and backs.

Receivers have blitz routes and route variants depending on man-to-man or zone, and backs have blitz pickups and sometimes routes.

However, these position still require the least memorization and group coordination relative to other positions.

With regards to lineman, it is basically the same reason why QBs usually have high scores, only most people don’t see how difficult it is because they don’t have the ball.

16 Larry July 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm

OT’s have more brains than QB’s because their position is so difficult to play. Many of them also make more money than the QB. See Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side for more.

17 Larry July 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm

OT’s have more brains than QB’s because their position is so difficult to play. Many of them also make more money than the QB. See Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side for more.

18 Larry July 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm

OT’s have more brains than QB’s because their position is so difficult to play. Many of them also make more money than the QB. See Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side for more.

19 Klug July 18, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Let’s remember that these numbers are from a single personnel man in the NFL. While I don’t doubt their general truthiness, I’ve yet to see something that confirms these numbers from an alternate method.

20 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Here’s a little study by Josh Millet of “The Wonderlic as a Predictor of Performance in the NFL” for quarterbacks.

It looks at quarterbacks who entered the league from 2000 to 2004 by IQ (Wonderlic score 21 = 100, each additional right answer is worth 2 IQ points) versus yards passing, which shows a strong positive relationship.

On the other hand, is yards passing the best dependent variable? And there are some arbitrary cut-offs involved. What do you do with all the quarterbacks who have barely gotten to play at all? There are quite a few drafted quarterbacks in the data table with 120+ IQs who have barely gotten into an NFL game.

I wouldn’t be surprised if teams keep an eye out for Brian Griese-types — smart quarterbacks who aren’t that physically talented — and keep them around in case injuries wipe out the top two quarterbacks and they need to plug in a warm body who has memorized the playbook and won’t throw too many interceptions. You can use them as quasi-assistant coaches in the meantime, having them do clipboard-associated chores. The smarter ones won’t rebel as much at not getting any glory and will be working hard mentally to learn the game so they can become coaches later on. And they’re not likely to go to prison for dog-fighting.

21 Klug July 18, 2008 at 6:24 pm


The first line from your last link:

“please note these results represent research and generally come from reliable sources, i.e., Notes from NFL scouts. It is important to understand that scores cannot be “verified” since they are not released by the NFL, but rather leaked by teams or scouts. As such, the accuracy of all the scores could be considered questionable.”

22 MW July 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm

I find all these comments about causation strange. The amount of knowledge NFL QB’s need to memorize is mind-boggling. But I would say a typical OL memorizes as much as an RB or WR. An RB, for example, would have to know how fit into all the complex OL maneuvers.

So, to be plain about it, it is mainly about race. For whatever reason, those in the top of the top of the top of the top of athleticism and fast twitch muscles have East Afican genes. Many of these players also come from horrible family backgrounds where they went malnourished and uneducated.

OL players, on the other hand, more reflect the national race makeup. For them, it’s whoever happens to big, which doesn’t correlate with IQ as elite athleticism does.

23 Steve Sailer July 18, 2008 at 7:37 pm

The reason that “The closer you are to the ball, the higher your score” is because the closer you are to the ball, the more crowded the field is, so the less importance there is to footspeed relative to upper body strength. Blacks tend to have an advantage in speed, so they tend to become more numerous at positions the farther you get from the center. That lowers the average IQ score of these outlying positions.

24 BoscoH July 18, 2008 at 7:48 pm

And in fact brains can be an equalizer to pure brawn on the O-Line. A textbook example is USC guard Jeff Byers. He’s finally healthy in his senior year, weighs about 285 pounds (less than the typical 300+ of his co-linemen), but will be the leader on the line this year because he knows all the positions. He can easily move to center if needed. Oh, and he is a very smart kid, not just a smart football player.

25 jim July 18, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Is it likely that malnutrition can be the cause of a lower IQ among elite level athletes? Shouldn’t this malnutrition also have had some side effect that kept them out of the .001%?

Malnutrition and lack of early childhood stimulus have an effect on IQ, but I don’t think evidence supports it as the dominant cause of the IQ differentials between ethnic groups.

26 Moosquito July 19, 2008 at 1:03 am

I heard about this type of testing and such. I thought this would be a nice addition to the conversation. Watch this video and it goes into more insight on testing and scores and wonderlics. Send some feedback too – Would love to here responses.. – Watch the whole thing. very good. Goes well with the theme of this topic while also mentioning sports as well.

27 Intrigued July 19, 2008 at 10:21 am

Since the closer you are to the ball, the higher your score, the following are true
( a ) The ball is the smartest on the field, since it is closest to itself
( b ) The guy who is seated on the last row in the stadium is stupid
( c ) Those who watch this mindless game on TV are stupidest

I always knew ( c ) and suspected ( b ), but I must say that this study surprised me with ( a )

28 Yancey Ward July 19, 2008 at 12:23 pm

From Steve Sailer:

The truly interesting lesson in these comments is how intellectually debilitated by political correctness so many highly educated people are. Here we have a not very difficult puzzle involving the NFL, the most popular sport in America, and even with hints, a lot of commenters just didn’t get it.

I think most of the commenters got it right from the beginning, but what is debilitated is their willingness to speak up on this issue for fear of being called a racist pig. It was quite amusing watching you bait them comment after comment, and it was quite surprising to me just how long it took before someone was willing state the connection.

29 aish July 19, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Kickers and Punters have the highest IQ for the same reason that MIT has the best pistol team in the country (better than west point and the naval academy): in both cases the most important factor is the ability to concentrate , focus, and execute one exact physical motion. Raw athleticism is not very relevant

30 Steve Sailer July 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Reminds me of the scene in “Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo,” where Deuce (Rob Schneider) finds his friend T.J. Hicks (Eddie Griffin) by looking in the only Waffles and Chicken joint in Holland.

TJ: How’d you find me?

Deuce: It’s the only chicken and waffles place in Holland.

TJ: So a black man’s gotta be at a chicken and waffles place? That’s racist.

Deuce: But … you _are_ here.

TJ: Yeah, but figuring it out is racist.

31 Mo July 20, 2008 at 4:18 pm

I know I shouldn’t feed the trolls, but o-line is less white than QB and LB is whiter than DL.

32 meter July 21, 2008 at 9:17 am

I know, Brutus: both teams wear blue uniforms!

So do the NY Giants, who last won the last Super Bowl. Maybe the color blue is the hallmark of champions? (Incidentally, I wonder what their average Wonderlic score was last year?)

33 Smersh July 21, 2008 at 5:19 pm

What position does Steve Sailor play? Because that one scores “White Supremacist Race Baiter” on the Wonderlic.

34 Justin September 4, 2008 at 1:05 am

It looks this way because of black dominant positions. Emphasis in the lower class minority communities is about athleticism over intelligence. Where as middle to upper class white and black families stress good grades over athletic accolades.

35 Intelligentia October 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Based on this analysis, how do you measure the accuracy of this test in real life performances. Is it based on paper test or on the field exhibition of this IQ test results. Since everything is Black and White, with the intended goal to have White as the winner in the outcome, who is the best OL player based on the field performance results. For each position, we need to know who is on the top of the list of Best of the Best. There, my friends, you will find the result of your intellectual superiority! The “I-scored-higher-than-you” in a standardized test propaganda, which has no correlation to reality, is not going to fly, because it cannot withstand even the most cursory scrutiny!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: