A 2011 study by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors found that an increase from the 25th to the 75th percentile in a Wonderlic score correlated to a rise of more than 14 spots in draft position for a white player. For a Black player, the gain was less than half that.
Increasingly over the last decade, the N.F.L. and its teams have turned to other assessments that claim to gauge how quickly players pick up football-specific concepts and assess behavioral tendencies, all in an attempt to discern if they’ll fit in with the pros. At the 2013 combine, the league debuted the Player Assessment Test, a computerized test created by Cyrus Mehri of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that measures attributes like aggressiveness alongside cognitive traits.
To scout players themselves, teams have also leaned on consultants with proprietary tests that claim, with varying support, to evaluate players’ sport-specific intellectual ability. The Athletic Intelligence Quotient emphasizes spatial awareness and fast-paced decision-making, the Troutwine Athletic Profile rates a dozen “performance traits” such as composure and grit, and Human Resource Tactics uses testing that purports to gauge, among other things, an athlete’s love of the game.
Mark Aoyagi, a director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver and a former draft adviser to an N.F.L. team, views the testing boom with skepticism. Aside from the A.I.Q. and the Test of Attentional and Interpersonal Style, the tests have not been subject to peer review in leading scientific journals, leading to doubts of their efficacy.
“A test that does not have scientific validity is no different than me playing tic-tac-toe with them and saying, ‘This must predict something about their future,’” Aoyagi said.
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In his consulting role, Aoyagi employed the A.I.Q. and T.A.I.S. to evaluate draft prospects, before conducting interviews with them. “We call that triangulation — the data from the A.I.Q. and T.A.I.S. and your own observational data,” Aoyagi said.
Daniel Jeremiah, a former N.F.L. scout who now works as a draft analyst for the N.F.L. Network, emphasized that no one test can provide conclusive insight into whether a player will be able to adapt to being a professional. Talking to coaches and teammates, scouring film and spending as much time with the prospect as possible, he said, are all necessary evaluation tools. “It’s the biggest challenge for scouts now, finding out how they’ve dealt with stuff in terms of toughness, mentally and physically,” Jeremiah said.