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Prospects might take a pass on 'cognitive tests' at Scouting Combine

Wed Feb 28 1:46pm ET
Field Level Media

INDIANAPOLIS -- From Wonderlic scores to the new S2 cognitive test, NFL teams utilize in-person psychological and IQ tests to formulate a more complete evaluation of every prospect at the annual Scouting Combine.

But the longevity of the polarizing practice has been called into question this week by prospects refusing to submit to the scantron as part of their marathon of medical evaluation, on-field testing, private interviews and media obligations required as part of the annual pre-draft gathering.

Leaked cognitive testing results before the 2023 NFL Draft discredited the processing skills of then-Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who reportedly scored 18 out of 100 on the "S2" test.

Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans said the test wasn't a factor in any way when the franchise selected Stroud with the No. 2 pick in April. Stroud had the Texans convinced he was a franchise quarterback even before he met with them at the 2023 Scouting Combine, and only cemented his status during their interview.

"You'd see C.J. come into our room in formal interviews and just see he had that calmness about him in the room. You can tell -- for me, I could tell instantly if a guy has what it takes," Ryans said. "I saw that in C.J. when I first sat down and he began to speak to us about his background and his college experience. Then you see his teammates and how they spoke about C.J. I remember being here last year, and every Ohio State teammate that sat in our room, they spoke highly of C.J. and the type of leader he was and what he meant to them and the things that he did to those guys to help them. You can't hide. Your true character always will show, and it showed that C.J. was a really great guy, raised the right way, and he was the same guy throughout the entire year. He didn't change."

Stroud became NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, leading the Texans to the AFC South division title and a playoff win over the Cleveland Browns.

His agents at Athletes First sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams before the combine to outline reasons their clients would not submit to any "cognitive or psychological testing" this week, citing a breach in confidentiality with Stroud.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was pleased to report no prospect opted out of their test at the 2024 combine. That's noteworthy in part because Athletes First also represents Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur.

"It's a very important part of our process, but it's just a part of our process," he said. "Really, the way our cognitive testing works, it's not really used as much as an evaluation tool whether we're going to choose a player or not (in the draft).

"It's more about if we do choose a player, what are the best ways we're going to support that player once we get him in the building."

Gutekunst said the test the Packers use likely is different than most or all other teams. They ask prospects to participate because it provides a baseline for individual instruction and tells Green Bay coaches how that player best learns.

Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin said Cincinnati as a franchise employs its scouting staff and position coaches to discern the information other teams are trying to gather with impersonal "cognitive" tests.

"We don't believe in a lot of that. We put the resources in our own people to determine how well somebody will transition into our game. There's no magic bullet and there's no better mouse mousetrap," he said. "The mouse still escapes some time. You can spend a lot of time on cognitive tests. And you can spend a lot of time researching the guy's background on your own. And the results, in my opinion, are pretty similar."

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