February 28, 2011
Alongside the many absurd feats of size, strength and speed on display at the NFL's combine for incoming draft picks, there are also the annual efforts to bore as deeply as possible into the players' skulls. Is this guy smart? Is he a flake? Is he a potential "cancer" in the locker room? Is he really committed to sacrificing his body to the sport? The informal method of sniffing out a potential head case involves face-to-face interviews and the sort of ephemeral buzz that dogged this year's resident "character risk," Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, throughout the weekend in Indianapolis. The formal method is the Wonderlic test.
Usually, leaked Wonderlic scores are embarrassingly low. Not so, however, for Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who nearly aced the test, scoring a 48 out of a possible 50 according to his hometown Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That score puts him on the high, high end of potential employees in any field, and especially among NFL quarterbacks. A 48 is twice the league average for incoming QBs, and matches the highest score for a quarterback on record, belonging to current Buffalo Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard grad. (Here is the most complete database of Wonderlic scores by quarterbacks through 2006. Only one other starter last year, the 49ers' Alex Smith, managed a 40 on the test; only one NFL player, former Bengals punter Pat McInally – another Harvard grad – is believed to have scored a perfect 50.)
By that standard, McElroy is one of the smartest quarterbacks in league history – no surprise, considering he was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship last fall and has always been praised more for his poise and decision-making than his arm or athleticism. (He didn't throw or work out in Indy because of a hand injury he suffered in the Senior Bowl.)
Of course, coming as it does as part of the process of poking, prodding, dissecting and otherwise maximizing every conceivable flaw of incoming prospects, McElroy's brainpower still has the potential to be taken as a negative around the league, as explained by Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:
That said, scoring too high can be as much of a problem as scoring too low. Football coaches want to command the locker room. Being smarter than the individual players makes that easier. Having a guy in the locker room who may be smarter than every member of the coaching staff can be viewed as a problem — or at a minimum as a threat to the egos of the men who hope to be able when necessary to outsmart the players, especially when trying in some way to manipulate them.
So while McElroy, who was unable to work out due to injury, may be really smart, he perhaps would have been wise to tank a few of the answers.
Argh: Too smart! If only there was some widely accepted sweet spot of "kind of dumb, but not alarmingly dumb" that prospects knew to shoot for.
That response shouldn't come as a surprise from the same league that took the academic success of Florida State safety Myron Rolle – who actually earned a Rhodes scholarship and took a year off from football to pursue it – as an opportunity to question his commitment to a gridiron career. The NFL draft: Where you'll never be good enough, even if you're too good.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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