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Virgil Carter, Player Smarts, and the Wonderlic

Back in December, Kevin Clark wrote an excellent piece titled The NFL’s Analytics Revolution Has Arrived. In the article, he mentions Virgil Carter, the QB (1968-76) who mostly played for the Bengals. As Kevin writes:


"Carter is a driving force in two separate football revolutions. In 1970, the Cincinnati Bengals turned to Carter, the backup quarterback, after their starter went down with an injury. The coaching staff changed its offensive strategy to play to Carter’s strengths, using shorter passes and rollouts to compensate for his lack of arm strength. The Bengals won seven straight games to end the regular season, and in 1971 Carter led the NFL in completion percentage. The quarterbacks coach on that team was Bill Walsh and the offense the Bengals designed eventually became known as the West Coast offense...


"If that were Carter’s only contribution to the sport, it would be notable. But during that same stretch, Carter introduced something else, albeit to much less fanfare. It was a 1971 academic paper called “Operations Research on Football” written by Carter and Robert Machol... The paper featured landmark data on the value of possession and quantified “expected points” according to field position, now the backbone to modern football analytics."


Finally, Kevin notes after talking with Virgil, that the paper that there was no reaction to the paper. It got me thinking, how much of a story would it be if Drew Brees (the usual leader in completion %) wrote a paper discussing field position and expected points per position on the field? Ryan Fitzpatrick might lose his monopoly on "Smart QBs are from Harvard."


Player Smarts

Virgil Carter would certainly be tagged in the media as a "smart" player, and with the draft around the corner, it got me thinking about the "smart" and "not so smart" player narratives that circulate about the Wonderlic test scores during the draft process.


For those unfamiliar, the Wonderlic test is a sudo-IQ test. Giving takers 12 minutes to answer 50 questions, with every correct answer adding a point to the score. For example, Pat McInally's 50 is notable as the only known perfect score while Morris Claiborne's 4 is the lowest known score by an NFL player.


I can remember the stories about Vince Young's dreadful score of 6 and wondering if it was true, and if so will he be able to learn an NFL playbook?


The good news for low scoring players (and a down side for high scoring ones) is that scores do not significantly predict NFL performance according to a 2009 study by by Brian D. Lyons, Brian J. Hoffman, and John W. Michel. While there are some who believe extreme scores (high or low) are red flags for NFL executives, for example not wanting a "too smart" player that may threaten the coaches ego or process.


Regardless if scores are not predictors of future NFL performance, it is still fun to look and compare (the main reason we care about stats in the first place!), feel free to dive into some sample questions yourself:


Sample Questions

- If a piece of rope cost 20 cents per 2 feet, how many feet can you buy for 30 dollars?

- Which of the numbers in this group represents the smallest amount? a) 0.3 b) 0.08 c) 1 d) 0.33

- A high-speed train travels 25 feet in 1/3 second. In 4 seconds, the train will have traveled __?__ feet.

- A clock lost 2 minutes and 36 seconds in 78 days. How many seconds did it lose per day?


How Does Your QB Compare to a Janitor?

So how does your guy stack up? Not all scores are made public, however I pulled the below data from the Wonderlic test Wikipedia page and put in to Tableau.


Check out notable high and low scores, as well as click over to the other tab to see how positional averages compare to major occupations.


See the full Viz. here.




Thank you for reading.

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