July 20, 2008

NFL IQs: The Picture

Graphical data analyst Ben Fry takes some old data provided by NFL scribe Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated on the average Wonderlic IQ test scores by position of draft prospects (which I'd published in VDARE in 2003) and plots it with offense in blue, defense in red, and the radius of the circle proportional to the scores.


You can convert them to IQs assuming that 21 correct answers = 100 and add or subtract 2 IQ points for each answer above or below 21. So, quarterbacks averaged 24 right for a 106 IQ. Tailbacks averaged 16 for a 90.

Don't get too excited about minor differences between positions: I've seen other listings of averages by position and they differed slightly. But the overall pattern was the same.

Marginal Revolution explains the graph as "The closer you are to the ball, the higher your score."

Okay, but why is that?

Because the closer you start out to the ball at the time of the center snap, the more crowded the field is around you. So, close to the ball, the more important upper body strength is and the less important footspeed is. If you are the center, say, there just isn't much room to run and you don't have anywhere in particular to go. You might dash a few yards forward to block the middle linebacker or backpedal a few yards to protect the quarterback, but that's about it. On the other hand, if you are a defensive lineman, you want to get to the quarterback before he releases the ball, so footspeed is important on defense. A defensive end might take the long way around and sprint 20 yards to sack the quarterback.

Upper body strength is relatively equally distributed between the races, but footspeed most definitely is not. So, tailbacks, wide receivers, and defensive players have a need for speed, so they are disproportionately black. I haven't checked recently, but in most recent years since Jason Sehorn's retirement, none of the 64 NFL starting cornerbacks at the start of the season were white, and none of the 32 starting tailbacks were white. (For some reason, this never gets as much publicity as the perceived lack of black quarterbacks.)

As we all know, there is about a 15 point difference IQ gap between whites and blacks, so positions that are black dominated tend to have lower average IQs than positions that are more integrated (or that are white monopolized, such as placekicker and punter).

Another (also oversimplified, but useful) way to think about it is like this: talents are arrayed in a pyramid, with only a few people at the top.

Imagine you have a whole bunch of guys who are about 6-5 and 280 pounds. You then sort them by 40 yard dash times. The handful of extremely fast ones at the top of the pyramid of footspeed are assigned to play defensive end because they have the best chance of sacking the quarterback. The pretty fast ones in the next layer down play defensive tackle because they might sack the QB.

That leaves a lot of not very fast big guys to play offensive line. At any level of footspeed in the lower part of the pyramid, there are more people than at the top of the pyramid.

So, to differentiate among the average speed guys, you start looking more at other skills.

First, you tell them to gain 40 pounds because for pass-blocking you need inertia more than acceleration. Not surprisingly, lots of them find that why, yes, they can eat more pancakes if it means a chance to play in the NFL.

So, now you have a whole bunch of 320 pound guys who aren't that fast. So, you look for the ones who are coordinated and relatively nimble and send the clods home. And then you look at the ones who have a lot of desire, who can play through pain, and so forth and so on.

Somewhere along in there, you look at IQ, which is useful in learning the playbook, in learning to play other positions in the offensive line, in keeping out of jail, in not getting caught taking steroids, and so forth.

Overall, because there are more people physically able to play offensive line, there is more selection pressure on non-physical attributes, such as IQ.

That then allows coaches to devise more cognitively difficult tactics for offensive linemen to execute than for defensive linemen, which in turn reinforces the need for IQ among offensive linemen. Or perhaps causality runs more in the opposite direction and the offensive line is inherently more IQ demanding than other positions. It's kind of a chicken or egg problem.

But the important thing to keep in mind is that IQ is a relatively minor factor in the NFL relative to the ability to generate force: mass times acceleration. If you are over 220 pounds and can run the 40-yard-dash in under 4.40 seconds but have an 80 IQ, they'll try to explain the playbook to you very slowly. There are 150 million people in America with 3 digit IQs, but only a tiny number of them have the combination of size and speed to play in the NFL.

24 comments:

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: Because the closer you start out to the ball at the time of the center snap, the more crowded the field is around you. So, close to the ball, the more important upper body strength is and the less important footspeed is.

I think I might approach it from the opposite direction: The closer you are to the ball, the more decisions you have to make - in a shorter timeframe, as well [at the line of scrimmage, near the ball, there isn't time to make the wrong decision and then scramble & hustle to compensate for having made the wrong decision].

And the more decisions which need to be made [correctly] and the shorter the timeframe within which the decisions must be made [punctually], the more it benefits to have a higher IQ.

PatrickH said...

Why would O-tackles be so much smarter (26) than guards (23)? Maybe because guards have to have speed to pull on sweeps and screens? That would mean that there's some selection pressure on speed there too. I wonder, are there more black guards than O-tackles? I guess there would be, but not as much of a difference as on the D-line, where AFAIK, blacks dominate.

Tom said...

"plots it with offense in blue, defense in red, and the radius of the circle proportional to the scores."

And so it's time to open your copies of How to Lie with Statistics.

Hint: the area of a circle is proportional to the square of the radius.

Truth said...

"I wonder, are there more black guards than O-tackles?"

No, left tackle, which is the most 'athletic' position on the line, features the most blacks.

I feel that tackles need to be smarter, because they are matched up one-on-one against celebrated pass rushers and must out think them to protect the QB. Guards on the other hand pretty much stick with the playbook: plow forward on a fullback dive, pull on a halfback off tackle or a screen and knock the snot out of the guy in front of you on a pass play.

Blode said...

I just don't think that is lying, Tom. Lying is a verbal process and graphics aren't verbal. I mean, try looking at a uniform-scale map of the solar system ... pretty boring with just the sun and the gas giants visible.

The differences between the numeric scores just aren't very big, and just wouldn't be easily visible if represented 1:1. It makes sense to square them.

albertosaurus said...

Upper body strength is relatively equally distributed between the races, but footspeed most definitely is not.

Are you sure? Obviously foot speed favors black as anyone who watched the Olympic trials must know. But "World's Strongest Man" competitors are very white - mostly Slavs and Nordics. Olympic weight lifters are also predominately white.

Or am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Another factor to consider is aggressiveness. Defense requires quick reactions and aggressiveness; offense requires discipline and sticking with a plan.

guest007 said...

there is more reason to put up with a knuckleheaded cornerback or wide receiver who has world class speed than put up with a center who is a knucklehead.

Look at how many times have at least one wide receiver that cannot run a proper pattern or a safety who takes bad angles. However, no team has a long snapper who cannot make the long snap 95% of the time.

Anonymous said...

Elite black strength athletes have better things to do than try to earn a few peanuts in the World's Strongest Man competitions -- like earn millions playing DE in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said

"Elite black strength athletes have better things to do than try to earn a few peanuts in the World's Strongest Man competitions -- like earn millions playing DE in the NFL."

except that DEs are not elite strength athletes. elite strength athletes specialize in strength, which leaves them out of football and certainly out of highly athletic positions like DE(where speed is king and freakish athletes combine excellent strength with freakish speed i.e. Jevon Kearse)

Sideways said...


Are you sure? Obviously foot speed favors black as anyone who watched the Olympic trials must know. But "World's Strongest Man" competitors are very white - mostly Slavs and Nordics. Olympic weight lifters are also predominately white.


World's strongest Man is apparently much more popular in those countries than in the rest of the world, so you've got a few problems with the relevance of those people.

Anyway, you do have a point. "strength" is affected not just by muscle mass and type, but also by leverage, which varies by build. People with natural barrel chests have the ability to bench press much more than people with shallow chests, even if the shallow-chested people are trained athletes.

Evolving in a hot climate is going to lead to long limbs and a thin frame (at least relatively speaking) which are great for running, but not so good for pushing.

Beyond that, you have the European ancestry of most black American football players, which could (in addition to unusual African genes) give them more cold-weather friendly builds.

Anyway, I'll boil this down to two points:
1) both Africans and Europeans have significant upper body strength

2) because of differences in body shapes and proportions, these strengths can lead to significant differences in certain types of athletic abilities.

Mu'Min M. Bey said...

One thing that is for sure, is that we as a country, and this is especially true for the White half is utterly obsessed w/IQ. One can speculate why, but the cynic in me simply reaches for Occam's Razor: when you're in as competitive environment as he USA, you're looking for any edge or angle you can get!

Holla back

Salaam
Mu
PS: Anybody wanna take a guesstimate as to what Mu's IQ is?;)

David Davenport said...

Still haven't explained why offensive tackles as well as centers have higher average scores than QB's, according to that chart.

Offensive linesmen also tend to have some of the longest NFL careers and tend to be the oldest set of players. On a typical NFL team, the oldest player is probably either a quarterback, a kicker, or a center.

With QB's, it's common to have a resentful venerable veteran and his young successor on the same team.

Football longevity and higher Wonderlick score as a young man -- what's the reason? Don't worry about kickers. They're a special category.

I never played center, but I've observed that centers need to have a stoical disposition. Their opponents hit them hard and attempt to get 'em rattled so as to cause a bad snap, but centers are able to do less hitting back, relatively speaking.

...

elite strength athletes specialize in strength, which leaves them out of football and certainly out of highly athletic positions like DE

Isn't that a bit contradictory? Strength "athletes" not being suited for highly athletic positions?

anony-mouse said...

Now wait a minute.

Didn't we read here a few days ago about how very high IQ people could do just about any job better?

Let's say we took a group of Physics Ph.D students from Beijing U. and put them into football jerseys (no helmets or padding needed, of course).

Then we lined them up against the lowest IQ team in the NFL.

Anybody want to estimate the point spread?

Anonymous said...

at qb position brett favre is the perfect sports industry poster boy for the decline of america and makes a good proxy for uncle sam himself:

it proved impossible for favre to control his impulsive play style for the benefit of the team. the result was a record number of interceptions many of them backbreaking.

favre cried like a baby at his retirement press conference yes he actually sobbed uncontrollably. hello matriarchy.

again like a baby favre cannot let go of his toy and desperately seeks the spotlight again resulting in the current ugly extra final act in his career.

it won't be surprising if favre does something to harm himself instead of live quietly in increasing retirement obscurity. probably drink himself into oblivion considering his past problems but possibly he'll do something more dramatic.

Tom said...

Blode, the square of 1.1 is 1.21. So, squaring basically suggests someone with IQ 110 (one standard deviation over the norm) having IQ 120 (two standard deviations over the norm). And I'm not sure the picture makes even that much sense.

Incorrect and misleading scaling is a common pitfall when illustrating various statistics. I'll stop with that -- it's probably as much weight as this sort of sidebar can take.

sisyphus said...

I think I might approach it from the opposite direction: The closer you are to the ball, the more decisions you have to make - in a shorter timeframe, as well [at the line of scrimmage, near the ball, there isn't time to make the wrong decision and then scramble & hustle to compensate for having made the wrong decision].


I was a pretty good DT in high school, spent a lot of time learning that craft and that of my opponents on the offensive side of the ball.

Several observations: no one is closer to the ball on about half of the plays than the running back, and he has to make a lot of decisions very quickly or the play breaks down (Earl Campbell/Christian Okoye types being the fairly rare exception), so I think that disproves the above point.

If anything, line play, offensive or defensive, is pretty much a streetfight, one doesn't need to do a lot of thinking.

In fact, that was the main reason I liked the position I played. I was in all the hard classes, so the last thing I wanted to do at practice was think too much. The linebackers and secondary had much harder jobs in terms of processing information and reacting. A zone defense is a relatively complex thing and takes both a lot of practice and skill to run well.

In contrast, the offense (really all parts of it) has the easier job once the game starts as long as they execute properly. They are basically reading from a script on every play - if they have prepared properly (and are reasonable skilled, large enough, etc.), they should in theory be able to dominate the defense.

IIRC, Steve had stated an alternate theory on a previous posting a while back. It was basically that higher IQ players are more willing to work together, sacrifice for the team, etc. THIS is the key to offensive line play - it really makes sense to think of the O-line as a single position with 10 or 12 legs and arms coordinated and choreographed to achieve a specific goal on each play. It takes a lot of really, really boring and painful practice in 95-degree heat in August to produce a solid O-line. Not something that is suited to self-centered, low-IQ glory hounds. Running backs, in my experience, are born and not made.

And, yeah, I guess higher IQ helps to learn the plays well enough to make last second adjustments when you get up to the line and see the defense set in an unexpected way. But the defense, at least behind the line, almost always has to do more thinking and reacting.

I really think it's more of a personality type requirement than an IQ requirement that is driving these results.

One more thing, a lot of comments about upper body strength. IMO, it is overrated. Leg power and what might be called core strength is what kills on the gridiron - all hitting is far more dependent on these than upper body strength.

Anonymous said...

David Davenport said

"Isn't that a bit contradictory? Strength "athletes" not being suited for highly athletic positions?"

Yes they are not as well suited for football as a faster strong guy. A ping pong player is an athlete but sure is not the right athlete for football, just like that a very strong guy(and not much else) could probably play interior linemen position in football but probably not much more than that.

Lucius Vorenus said...

sisyphus: ...THIS is the key to offensive line play - it really makes sense to think of the O-line as a single position with 10 or 12 legs and arms coordinated and choreographed to achieve a specific goal on each play... And, yeah, I guess higher IQ helps to learn the plays well enough to make last second adjustments when you get up to the line and see the defense set in an unexpected way.

This is the kind of thing that I was getting at - and it seems to get even more vital as you move up the food chain from NCAA Div I to the NFL - the guys on the offensive line have got all sorts of decisions that they have to make right before and right after the ball is snapped.

In the old days, you thought of middle linebackers - maybe Dick Butkus, or Mike Singletary - as being the really "chatty" guys on the field, barking out instructions to everyone else on their side of the line of scrimmage.

But nowadays [in the last ten or fifteen years], most of the talk at the line of scrimmage seems to involve the offensive linemen - they're all yelling at each other and pointing and trying to figure out who's going to pick up which blocking assignment [depending on whether or not the blitz materializes or is simply faked - another decision which has to be made on the part of the offensive line no later than when the ball is snapped - is it real, or is it a feint?].

And then there are the poor offensive tackles out there all alone, trying to decide beforehand: Is he going wide to the outside, or is he going to spin to the inside, and which way do I shift my weight to try to anticipate it?

I imagine that there's nothing quite like being an offensive tackle, isolated on national television, when he misreads the rush/blitz, and one of his assignments goes right around him and nails the QB - talk about embarrassment & humiliation...

Anonymous said...

This is true in Rugby as well. The biggest, smartest and slowest guys end up playing equivalent of O and D line. Fastest guys carry the ball regardless of intelligence. This is why the pack is constantly cursing the backs for their stupidity.

Also, good running is largely instinct with some experience thrown in, not cognitive ability. Some guys just have it in them to burn people, and some don't.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sisyphus's comments. Of note, the Denver Broncos' offensive line does not give individual interviews; they issue statements on behalf of the whole unit.

If the graphing is to be believed, it also appears that linebackers are more intelligent than the tailbacks, secondary & wideouts, which seems consistent with what I know of the game. Good linebackers combine extraordinary athleticism with a strategic grasp of the entire scheme on that side of the ball. Since foot speed is an advantage though, the nod goes more to black athletes for this position. However, I think the position also allows for the kind of intelligence not necessarily picked up by IQ tests like, as Steve has pointed out, the markedly un-white ability to keep up a running stream of trash talk while engaged in constant split-second decisionmaking.

-Senor Doug

josh said...

QB's are supposedly the highest IQ players on the field. Has Brett Favre kind of screwed up that theory?

Anonymous said...

West Africans don't just have longer legs than everybody else they have longer arms. Having long arms gives you leverage if throwing something light like a baseball but less if you are pushing something heavy like a shot put or a bench press.

Anonymous said...

The QB numbers are increasingly reduced by the NFL's insistence that there be more blacks at this most visible position.

Rest assured that Michael Vick's sabbatical has raised the average QB IQ more than a few points.

And that the Super Bowls will be won by the Bradys and Mannings of the world.

Brutus