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Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
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Wonderlic only one piece of NFL draft puzzle

TAMPA - Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne's ability to re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage, run hip-to-hip with them and attack footballs in the air are not concerns for NFL scouts or general managers. What could be a concern is Claiborne's ability to determine how much rope you can buy with $30 if a two-foot length sells for 20 cents. Questions such as that reportedly threw Claiborne off his game when he took the Wonderlic Test – a 12-minute, 50-question standardized intelligence test given each year to all players at the NFL scouting combine. Claiborne, who former NFL scout Greg Gabriel said suffers from a learning disability known throughout the league, scored a 4 on the test, according to an ESPN report. Generally, a score is 50 is perfect, 21 is average and 10 is considered illiterate.
The question now: Will Claiborne's score have any effect on his draft status? Considered the best pure cover corner in the draft, which begins on Thursday, Claiborne is rated a top-five overall pick by most analysts. And that likely won't change because of his test score, according to one veteran cornerback. "I don't think it should be a factor,'' said Buccaneers five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber, who could become a teammate of Claiborne's if the Bucs select him with the No. 5 overall pick. "They put you in a stressful situation and have you answer a bunch of questions, but I don't think it really translates into football and how good you are going to be as a player.'' Wonderlic scores are supposed to be confidential, but extreme scores have a tendency to leak out. So, there is documented proof to suggest Barber is right. For example, three-time Pro Bowl 49ers running back Frank Gore scored a 6 on the Wonderlic, according to Sports Illustrated, while Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green scored an 11, according to USA Today. At the other end of the spectrum, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Browns tight end Ben Watson each reportedly scored a 48 on the test, but neither has gone to a Pro Bowl and ESPN Scouts Inc. analysts rate both as average players. In some cases, though, Wonderlic scores can provide a hint of future NFL success. For example, of the four players beside Claiborne who Scout.com lists as having the lowest known Wonderlic scores, three never played a down in the league. Contrarily, all five players that Scout.com lists as having the highest known Wonderlic scores went on to play at least six years in the league as a regular starter or major contributor. That's why former Bucs player personnel director and former Seattle Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell thinks teams have to be at least a little concerned about Claiborne's reported score. "It's definitely a red flag,'' Ruskell said. "But that's why teams have to do their own research and their own homework by talking to a kid's (college) coaches and learning how it is that particular player learns. "Maybe he's more of a visual rep leaner or maybe he has ADD or something like that. In that case, the test becomes less fair for him. So, you have to find out how they helped him learn.'' The Bucs won't have any trouble doing that. Head coach Greg Schiano hired Claiborne's former position coach at LSU, Ron Cooper, to coach Tampa Bay's secondary. Cooper should give the Bucs some inside knowledge as to how quickly and how well Claiborne processes football information. For cornerbacks, though, those abilities don't have to be all that keen. Quarterbacks, middle linebackers and offensive linemen are usually required to absorb and process information the fastest, making the Wonderlic is an important evaluation tool. "That was a big thing with (quarterback) Josh Freeman when we made the selection with him,'' Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "His ability to retain and recollect was really important to us. "To me, it's all about the relevance of what the player does. How does he learn the position? How much can he retain? How much can he regurgitate when you have a chance to sit with him one on one?'' For most teams, research and the one-on-one interviews they conduct are far more important than the score a player produces on the Wonderlic, which may be losing its value to some NFL teams. "I think it has lessened in value over the years,'' Ruskell said. "We rely more heavily now on the research we do on school visits in person and what other people are saying about a guy's ability to learn and process information. "That's the bulk of how we decide whether a player can learn or how quickly he'll learn. When the Wonderlic comes out, it's nice to have verification of how you felt, and if they don't match up then you go back and do more research.'' The Wonderlic remains only one part of a long and detailed evaluation process. For all teams, the overriding factor in determining whether a player is worth drafting comes down to what they show on tape from game days and practices, plus overall physical makeup. "There are lots of different pieces that go into it and (the Wonderlic) is a piece of the puzzle, no doubt," Dominik said. "But you have to know the entire picture and make sure you get an accurate understanding of how it correlates to any individual player."

rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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