Quarterback Wonderlic Scores – Starters vs Backups

Most of the popular Wonderlic test score studies try to find relationships between quarterback Wonderlic scores and a wide range of on field performance statistics. These include but are not limited to passer rating, passing yards, touchdowns, wins and salary. However there is a big problem with trying to find correlations between Wonderlic scores and on field performances – there are way too many factors that play a role in determining future performances at the quarterback position. Can any of us honestly say that Tom Brady would be known as the best quarterback of all time if he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns?

The quality of a quarterback’s coaching staff, offensive linemen, wide receivers and even team defense can play a significant role in the decisions quarterbacks need to make when on the playing field. All of these factors are completely out of the quarterback’s influence and need to be excluded from Wonderlic scores vs. on-field performance studies.

Fixing the Flaw in Wonderlic vs. Performance Studies

For that reason we wanted to compare the Wonderlic test scores of starter vs non-starter, the guy in the game vs the guy sitting on the sidelines. Our theory is that someone like Jimmy Garapolo may have benefited from media attention unfairly because he has was surrounded by the best coaching staff, one of the best offensive lineman in the league and, a superbowl winning defense, and other subtle factors not directly related to his abilities as a quarterback.

Essentially we wanted to find a way to eliminate as much noise as possible and compare starting quarterback to the franchise’s alternative see if we could find anything interesting. Your starting quarterback may have terrible statistics, but he may be playing for a terrible team. In other words, does the Wonderlic test scores hold any value, either consciously or subconsciously, when a coach has to decide which quarterback to start and which to sit?

Please note that the data below was specifically for the 2016 season. We determined starter vs backup based on whoever played more games during the season, or whoever was the intended starter/backup prior to an injury. Based on this data, starting QB Wonderlic scores on average are better, and the starters of most teams do have better Wonderlic scores than the backups.

Here’s What We Found

All of this data suggests that A: Starting quarterbacks of the 2016 season had a slightly better Wonderlic score than their backups, and B: More teams chose to use the quarterback with the better Wonderlic score as their starter. We will be doing a more detailed study based on previous seasons, so stay tuned!