Cognitive tests at combine called into question; agency advises players to skip them

Sports agency emails NFL executives that their players will not be taking part of any cognitive testing either at the NFL Combine or at their school's pro day. The S2 Cognition test, a nine-part exam, is reportedly flawed in its data interpretation.

Former Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud performs during the skill testing at the 2023 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Stroud reportedly did not score well on the cognitive testing and was declared a risky pick. All that Stroud did this season was win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and lead the Texans to the playoffs in his inaugural season.
Former Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud performs during the skill testing at the 2023 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Stroud reportedly did not score well on the cognitive testing and was declared a risky pick. All that Stroud did this season was win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and lead the Texans to the playoffs in his inaugural season. / Stacy Revere/GettyImages
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At the NFL Combine, players go through a rigorous series of physical and mental testing that is to help separate themselves on teams' draft boards. Players are poked, prodded and examined both on the field and off in an effort to give teams a better feel for how their investments are going to pay off once the players are in the league.

The cognitive testing, the S2 Cognition test, has reportedly been called into question by an NFL Player agency that represents many top players in the draft. Athletes First, represents 29 players in this season's draft class, according to The Athletic.

Athletes First sent an email to various team executives informing them that their players will not be taking part in the mental or cognition testing and that they have been advised that the interpretation of the data has been faulty and that it does not accurately reflect the mental or cognitive abilities of the athletes.

"“We understand that many of your teams use these tests or protocols as part of your prospect evaluation process, however our recent experience with these exams has been less than positive,” the email continued. “Specifically, the fact that certain results and performance were leaked publicly last year demonstrates that there truly is no confidentiality with these tests. It is not right for a player’s intelligence, aptitude or mental processing to be subject to public discussion and ridicule — no other job interview carries the same scrutiny."

Athletes First, email to team executives

It was also reported by The Athletic that the decision was based upon the test scores of Houston Texans' quarterback CJ Stroud, who reportedly scored 18 out of 100 possible points on the test, which sent his stock spiraling down. The Texans must have not placed too much weight on the S2 as it drafted Stroud with the second pick of the draft. All Stroud did was lead the team to the playoffs in his rookie season and win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Apparently, the data was flawed and to the Texans' credit, they did not place too much stock in it.

The S2 replaced the Wunderlich test in 2016 and was designed to measure their processing speed, reaction time, and ability to respond under duress. It takes approximately 35 minutes to take and is tracks pattern recognition and impulse control. It does not measure a player's intelligence and is not designed to test their mental aptitude.

"“After much internal discussion, the agents at Athletes First have directed our draft prospects to respectfully pass on participating in any cognitive or psychological testing during the pre-draft process (e.g. AIQ, S2, etc.),” the email read."

Athletes FIrst, email to team executives

Stroud is not mentioned by name, but this past April, long time NFL writer Bob McGinn wrote for an entity known as Go Long and reported that Stroud performed poorly on the subjective test.

McGinn reported that Alabama’s Bryce Young was the top quarterback. strengthened by his performance on the S2 whereas the draft stock of Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, possibly the No. 2 prospect, took a hit.

"“The S2 people will say, ‘Hey, guys that graded high on this test don’t always play well,’” one club executive said, “’But, we’ve never had somebody grade low and play well.’”"

Unidentified NFL team executive on S2


As it would turn out, Young flopped in his rookie season and the Carolina Panthers did nothing but lose on the field, while Stroud won all the accolades and directed his team to the playoffs.

"“Stroud scored 18,” the executive told. “That is like red alert, red alert, you can’t take a guy like that. That is why I have Stroud as a bust. That in conjunction with the fact, name one Ohio State quarterback that’s ever done it in the league.”"

As reported by SI prior to 2023 Draft

Various remaining first round quarterbacks reportedly scored very high, including Young who attained a 98 percent on the exam. Will Levis scored an 84, while Anthony Richardson scored a 79.

The S2 website, according to The Athletic features Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow graduated from LSU, but began his career at Ohio State, who was the No. 1 pick in 2020. His total score of 97% was broken down into four sections: 94% on visual learning, 97% in instinctive learning, 97% in impulse control and 93% in improvisation. Burrow has tasted success in the NFL, leading his team to the Super Bowl in his rookie season.

Representatives from Athletes First and from S2 have been unavailable for comment.