Marc Delucchi, SFGate, September 11, 2023
The NFL presents itself as America’s most cutthroat meritocracy. And yet evidence continues to show that teams screw up the single most important decision they make due to racial bias.
From 2010 to 2022, teams were chronically underrating Black quarterbacks in the draft, a new statistical analysis from SFGATE shows.
QBs selected in those drafts had four times better odds of reaching at least one Pro Bowl if they were Black. SFGATE’s analysis found a statistically significant gap between the rate that Black quarterbacks reached the Pro Bowl relative to their peers despite controlling for draft position.
At every stage of the draft, the average Black quarterback outperformed their non-Black peers. In fact, the analysis found that the average Black quarterback was more likely to receive at least one Pro Bowl selection than the average non-Black quarterback selected 66 picks (roughly two rounds) earlier. The evidence strongly suggests that racial bias is blinding teams in the draft process, leading them to prefer inferior quarterbacks as long as they’re not Black.
In other words, Black quarterbacks are penalized in the draft solely for being Black, our analysis suggests, and it’s a penalty that reverberates years into their professional careers.
In a perfect world, there should be no disparity between the rate that Black quarterbacks drafted at any point reach the Pro Bowl compared with non-Black quarterbacks drafted at the same point.
These findings are not a reflection of the players selected but a reflection of the scouting departments and executives who made decisions during the draft. Despite persistent claims otherwise, there is no evidence that a player’s race has any impact on their athletic ability.
Rather, these results reinforce longstanding claims that Black quarterbacks face double standards, leading NFL teams to undervalue them in the draft.
Dating back at least three decades, well more than half of the league has been made up of Black players, although that number has slightly dipped in recent years. But less than a fourth of QBs drafted from 2010 to 2022 were Black.
“Black quarterbacks probably aren’t getting in the pool unless they’re amazing,” David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University who has extensively studied the effects of race in the NFL, told SFGATE. “White quarterbacks are getting in the pool when they’re not amazing. That’s why you see this.”
The data backs up Berri’s point. While nearly 1 in 3 (32.4%) signal-callers drafted between Round 1 and Round 3 were Black, less than 11.7% of quarterbacks drafted between Round 5 and Round 7 were Black.
Yet even though NFL teams have dedicated so many more picks to non-Black quarterbacks in the later rounds, the last non-Black quarterbacks selected after the 102nd pick (when Kirk Cousins was selected back in 2016) to go on to reach a Pro Bowl were Derek Anderson and Matt Cassel back in 2005. Over that span, Dak Prescott (135th), Tyrod Taylor (180th) and Tyler Huntley (undrafted free agent), a trio of Black quarterbacks, have all earned at least one Pro Bowl selection despite their limited draft pedigree.
The trend is visible throughout the draft: Generational talent Patrick Mahomes slid to the 10th pick. Future MVP Lamar Jackson went 32nd overall. (You may remember one ex-NFL GM saying before Jackson’s draft that he should play wide receiver.) All-Pro Russell Wilson wasn’t drafted until the third round.
Both a 2007 study by Berri and Rob Simmons and a 2022 study published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found evidence that Black quarterbacks were drafted lower than white quarterbacks with comparable college production and scouting combine performances. However, both papers found that the gap was no longer statistically significant — present but not large enough to draw academic conclusions — when including Wonderlic test results. The Wonderlic is an intelligence test that academic research has found to have an anti-Black bias since the 1970s.
Were teams actually heavily influenced by Wonderlic test results, or was this simply a convenient excuse?
The NFL stopped giving prospects the Wonderlic test in 2022, and the past two drafts have had some positive developments, suggesting that perhaps a part of the problem in the past amounted to NFL teams refusing to ignore an antiquated test.
In 2022, a pair of Black quarterbacks were drafted in the third round for the first time since 1984. (That year, two Black quarterbacks were selected in the third round, but they never signed with NFL teams.) A Black quarterback was also drafted in the seventh round, for just the second time since 2007.
In the 2023 NFL Draft, Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) and Anthony Richardson (Florida) became the first trio of Black quarterbacks in NFL history to be selected in the first 10 picks of the same class. Moreover, it marked the first time in NFL history that multiple Black quarterbacks were drafted in the first round and between Round 5 and Round 7.
Given the Wonderlic’s history, the NFL (and NFL media) should be exceedingly cautious. A myriad of tests have attempted to supplant the Wonderlic. Most recently, the S2 Cognition test claims to evaluate “an athlete’s invisible skill sets and the ‘whys’ behind their performance.” It has been described by NFL media as “like the 40-yard dash for the brain.”
S2 already lists clients throughout professional and amateur sports, but the only peer-reviewed papers analyzing the test include S2’s owners as co-authors. Since the company has not made test results public, or shared them with an independent third party, there’s reason to be concerned about racial bias.
A pair of analyses published in 2009 and 2010, respectively, found that NFL teams and NFL media consistently described players in ways that emphasized racist stereotypes. White players were more often credited for their work ethic and intelligence than their Black counterparts. Black players, on the other hand, were often lauded for “innate” and “natural” athletic abilities, a backhanded compliment that discredited their work ethic and intelligence.