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How Important is Intelligence in Football?

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With so much attention being placed on the Wonderlic exam, we want to address the importance of intelligence in football. First, let’s take a look at some interesting Wonderlic scores (the highest attainable score is 50):

Contrary to popular belief, Randy Moss is actually one of the smartest players in the NFL.

Dan Marino- 15

Ben Watson- 48

Vince Young- 15

Michael Vick- 20

Kevin Curtis- 48

Matt Leinart- 35

Drew Henson- 42

Donovan McNabb- 14

Terry Bradshaw- 15

Jim Kelly- 15

Randall Cunningham- 15

Ryan Leaf- 27

Steve McNair- 15

Jason Garrett- 36

Troy Aikman- 29

Clearly a high Wonderlic score is not a golden ticket to future NFL success, while a low one is not necessarily indicative of future failures. Except in the case of McNabb. 14. Nice.

But how important is true intelligence, apart from a standardized test result, in becoming a successful NFL player? We would argue that more important than being intelligent is being able to translate one’s intelligence to the football field. Dan Marino’s Wonderlic score of 15 obviously left something to be desired, but he certainly had “football smarts.”

Going hand-in-hand with intelligence is player conduct. When analyzing character, teams not only search through a player’s history of conduct, but also attempt to determine if he is intelligent enough to stay out of trouble in the future.

Two contrasting example of this are Randy Moss and Ryan Leaf. Moss slipped in the 1998 Draft due to concerns about his character (as Cowboys fans know all too well). However, Moss has used his intelligence to (generally) avoid trouble since entering the league. In fact, Moss was voted one of the smartest players in the entire NFL by his peers.

On the other end of the spectrum is Leaf, whose struggles are well-documented. Leaf didn’t fail in the NFL because of a lack of talent, though, but rather because he was a headcase. Despite scoring a 27 on the Wonderlic (a fairly good score), Leaf was one of the dumbest players we can remember. He did not translate his intelligence into becoming a better football player.

The key for teams is not only to decipher players’ intelligence, but also their ability to implement those smarts into improving on the field. For the Cowboys, it could mean the difference between either drafting or missing out on this year’s Randy Moss.

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