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What It Takes to Work Here: NFL


Beyond bench presses, the league tests for natural intelligence and the psyche of a champion.

Every February, prior to the spring draft, up to 335 of the top college football players in the country arrive in Indianapolis for the week-long National Invitational Camp, or the NFL Scouting Combine, as it's more commonly referred to.

It's here that prospects showcase their skills, by invitation only, for NFL coaches, general managers, and scouts, who are there to perform due diligence on their upcoming multi-million dollar investments, also known as draft picks.

NFL Combine attendees are tested in the following areas:

  • 40-yard dash

  • bench press (as many repetitions as possible, at 225 lbs.)

  • vertical jump

  • broad jump

  • 20-yard shuttle

  • three-cone drill

  • 60-yard shuttle

  • position-specific drills

  • physical measurements

  • injury evaluation

  • urinalysis

  • cybex test (to measure a player's flexibility and joint movement)

There are also interviews, in which coaches try to get a quick read on a prospect's personalities. Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "One guy did ask me, which one would I take: a pillow or a blanket? I said, 'A blanket because with a blanket, if I get cold I can cover up and I can also use it as a pillow.' "

This answer purported to show Owens' strong survival instinct, an important quality to have in the NFL.

Digging far deeper are people like Lewis Merletti, who works for the Cleveland Browns. Merletti is a former director of the US Secret Service, where he was Special Agent in charge of the Presidential Protection Division during the Clinton Administration. His official Browns bio notes that Merletti "gained extensive experience with complex criminal investigations, major task force operations, and counter-terrorist operations" while an agent.

If you've done anything even remotely close to wrong, it won't be a secret for long.

"In other industries, that level of scrutiny would be illegal," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick told the Los Angeles Times. "When we read about the activities of some of these players, it's because they are held to a higher level of scrutiny."

Then, there's the dreaded Wonderlic Personnel Test.

Invented in the 1930s by Eldon "Al" Wonderlic, a graduate student at Northwestern University at the time, the test gives players 12 minutes to complete 50 IQ test-style questions starting with extremely simple ones:

In the following set of words, which word is different from the others?

1. copper
2. nickel
3. aluminum
4. wood
5. bronze

The questions progressively get a bit more difficult:

A rectangular bin, completely filled, holds 640 cubic feet of grain. If the bin is 8 feet wide and 10 feet long, how deep is it?

A score of 10 is considered literate, the average American's score is 21 -- which is roughly equivalent to an IQ of 100. Only one professional football player, former Bengals punter Pat McInally, has ever scored a 50. The lowest-ever confirmed score comes courtesy of Roderick Green, an outside linebacker from Central Missouri State and drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004, with a three.

"On the field, the higher the IQ, the greater the ability to understand and handle contingencies and make sound decisions on the fly," Wonderlic Inc. CEO Charlie Wonderlic Jr. told ESPN.
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