Da'Rel Scott ran a 4.34 40, impressive because he's 211 lbs. Stephen Paea benched 225 lbs 49 times, impressive because he's a human being. But the number most being talked about is 48: as in Alabama QB Greg McElroy's near-perfect Wonderlic score, amazing to many because he's a college football player and we don't expect them to have gotten anything out of their studies.
A Rhodes Scholarship finalist, McElroy was bound to do well on the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, that redheaded stepchild of the Combine. It's filled with problem-solving questions of the type that made you complain, when you brought home a bad grade, that you'd never need to know this stuff when you grew up. Unless you're a train conductor, you generally don't. Yet, we follow leaked Wonderlic scores with an almost prurient interest — Everyone knows about Vince Young's alleged 6.
Why? The teams don't particularly seem to care. Young went third overall. No one had a problem handing the keys to Dan Marino, who was dumber than a box of rocks. A study found zero correlation between Wonderlic scores and passer ratings, and more importantly, zero correlation between Wonderlic scores and career salaries. Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting in Buffalo only because Trent Edwards was the alternative, and it had very little to do with Edwards's ability to pick out which polygon is next in a series.
The Wonderlic is for us, in a weird way. It's the absolute last time we get to feel superior to pro athletes. We look at sample tests, and figure we could score in the 40s, easily. (We couldn't. The average journalist, for example, scores about a 26.) At the very least, we'd do better than a 6.
Well, yes we would, but that's as pointless as saying you're better in bed than Stephen Hawking. Football players don't have agents to get them million-dollar signing bonuses to play professional test-taking. Vince Young's football skills dwarf yours, more than your word problem skills outperform his. In essence, it's a foolish comparison and a holdover from the dying myth of the student-athlete. The people who'll criticize a player for a low Wonderlic score are the same ones who argue that a college scholarship is enough reimbursement for a star athlete. As if a four-year education is the ultimate goal of the NCAA, and being good at football is just an incidental way to achieve that education. Most right-thinking observers and honest players would tell you it's the other way around: that if the outdated amateur football system in this country means they have to go through the motions of college in order to get the job they really want, then they'll do it.
"You have to watch out for the smart ones," Giants GM Jerry Reese once told me. "If things aren't going well, they have other careers to fall back on. The ones who are good at football and only football, they'll do whatever it takes to stay in the league."
All of which is to say that McElroy's inability to participate in any passing drills due to injury is going to have a much bigger effect on his draft position than his near-perfect Wonderlic score.