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Low Wonderlic scores ding elite NFL prospects

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Posted March 17, 2011 @ 9:01 p.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

Two of the NFL's brightest future stars, LSU CB Patrick Peterson and Georgia WR A.J. Green, registered among the five lowest Wonderlic scores of the 330 participants at this year's Combine.

Peterson was one of four prospects who recorded a dreaded single-digit score, which NFL teams often equate with getting their name right, tying with South Carolina's Chris Culliver for the lowest mark among all defensive backs as both correctly answered only nine questions on the 12-minute, 50-question test.

Green registered the lowest score of all receivers, answering 10 questions correctly.  

What does it mean? The Wonderlic test is just a small piece of the evaluation process, designed to gauge the intelligence of prospects. What NFL teams value much more highly is football intelligence — how quickly a player can instinctively read, react and make plays on the field.

"Peterson plays like a low-test guy," one NFL decision maker told PFW on the condition he remain anonymous, "but (if) he's in 'cat' (man-to-man) coverage in the NFL, it's not as big of an issue as it will be for offensive guys."

"He's a press corner," another longtime evaluator said. "His strong suit is that he can run and press. He won't play for the Patriots, where he's disguising coverage after coverage, but I still think he can be a No. 1 shutdown corner."

A scout with deep knowledge of the kid said, "The more I'm around him, the more I love him even more. I love the kid, and I love the talent. But I don't like the way he plays with his back to the ball. He has an instinct issue, and I think it's tied to his mental (ability). He can only handle so much. He's not a quick processor. It's a scary year to be drafting in the top 10 because they all have some issue."

The increasing complexity of NFL offenses creates more pressure for a receiver like Green, but teams are still split about how much of a concern his score is.

"He will get it," one evaluator said. "You're going to have to take it slow with him and let him start at one position and let him learn on the run. He's not going to be able to handle learning all three positions. If you ask him to be an X, Y and Z, you're setting him up for failure."

"A.J. won't reach his full potential," another evaluator said. "It's hard for dumb receivers. I don't know that Julio Jones (who scored a 15, ranking in the bottom 12 among wideouts) will be much better."

A third evaluator said, "You can't cover that guy. He's so difficult to defend. Will it take him some time? It could. That's on the coaches. It's their job not to give him too much. If you overload him, you could have some problems initially, but he's a great kid. He'll work at it. And he'll get it."

Florida OT Carl Johnson produced the worst score among this draft class, registering a 6, and Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter was the only other athlete to record a single digit, scoring a 9.

The offensive line and quarterback groups, both expected to score highly given the premium placed on reading defenses and recognizing protection in the NFL, heavily represented the top 10 scores. Alabama QB Greg McElroy registered the top score, correctly answering 43 of the 49 questions he attempted. He was followed by Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo (41), Baylor OG Danny Watkins (40), Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien (38), Idaho QB Nathan Enderle (38), Central Michigan ILB Nick Bellore (36), Portland State TE Julius Thomas (35), Florida State QB Christian Ponder (35), Michigan OG Steve Schilling (35) and Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara (35).

Although the tests are designed to measure intelligence, many registered NFL player advisers help their clients prepare for the exam, and as a result, the test scores often may be inflated. The Wonderlic company says no tester should improve by more than a handful of points, and any improvement much greater than that should be dismissed.

Castonzo scored a 35 the first time he took the exam last spring, six points lower than he did at the recent Combine; McElroy scored a 32, jumping 11 points, and Enderle a 40, falling two. On the other hand, Watkins scored a 15 the first time he took the exam last spring, so his 25-point improvement will be discarded by NFL teams, which have expressed some concern about his ability to handle playing multiple positions despite having the physical skill set to play anywhere on the line. Bellore scored a 21 the first time he took the test, showing a 15-point improvement. Amukamara, who registered the top score for a cornerback, improved by 21 points from the 14 he recorded last fall, and teams that have interviewed him have said the 14 score is a closer indicator of his intelligence.


For more updates on who fared the best and worst at each position, follow PFW on Twitter.  

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