As we stroll through the week of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, this is a chance for us to remember a few things about the coming events that serve as a precursor to the 2024 NFL Draft:

  • A big part of the Combine is that teams get to interview players and see them react and interact in a controlled environment of drills and varied evaluation.
  • Some players will inevitably ‘move up and down’ the draft board based purely on good or bad 40-yard dash, vertical jump or bench-press numbers.
  • We are sure to see a constant stream of hot takes and rumors from now until the draft. Don’t trust the propaganda!

Every GM and scouting department is pouring over tape of not only eligible college draftees, but also of possible free agent veteran additions, to evaluate how their skills could fit their scheme. They have likely been evaluating all season, but there are still different elements of the puzzle to uncover. Why is it such a crapshoot to evaluate talent and draft well??

How could a player test historically poorly on an intelligence test, and then go on to have a historically successful rookie year at a mentally demanding position? Part of it could have to do with player development… but I think there are more complicated factors involved.

There are always other variable that are difficult to separate from statistics or even the players game tape, such as motivation, adaptability, maturity, scheme familiarity, usage and opportunity, work ethic and consistency, relationships and trust with coaches, some amount of dumb luck, and one of the big ones: how much impact did a good or a bad teammate playing next to them affect their play?

This is part of why a video game like Madden cannot ever fully replicate life. There are so many systems at play that have a hidden impact on decisions and performance.

We always want a way to be able to measure a person when faced with an interview. Even if our logic is flawed, we create a system, and that is not a bad thing at all.

I had a long discussion with friends recently about the idea of intelligence and how you can’t always measure it. They sought to find a way to measure it lol. Whether through means of academic grades, language pronunciation, or adaptability, it’s easy to think we can quickly and accurately assess intelligence.

Judy Kearins did a study comparing the intelligence of white, euro-Australian children vs. aboriginal children. At first, she found that the white children outperformed the aboriginal children in language and traditional IQ testing.

Believing that the test ignored what the aboriginal children were good at, she sought to create another test (one of visual-spatial awareness). The aboriginal children then tested higher than the white children in this manner. It’s interesting that the way we view the world, and even the task at hand, could be biased by our environments, self-determinate needs and even cultures.

The original IQ test was created by two psychologists in 1905 France who were aiming to help struggling kids in school. The skills that they chose to test were ones that they reasoned could be poured together to create a solution to signify a person’s intelligence quotient.

If you read up on Sternberg and Grigorenko, they find that in some African cultures different measures of intelligence may even be considered inversely correlated (a genius in one field could be a fool in another). Jimmy Kimmel even gives a hilarious description of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in relation to Aaron Rodgers in the first seven and a half minutes of his show. It boils down to just because you’re good in one area, does not mean that applies to all areas in life.

I don’t want to turn this into a genius vs. specialization debate, but this is hilarious.

We may all have tasks that suit our skillsets well.

Cultural bias is a common criticism of IQ-testing, as is the fact that it gets less and less reliable the further an individual is from their childhood. Feel free to look up terms like Alfred Binet, the Army alpha and beta test, and EQ testing for interesting research and conclusions about testing and controversy.

The U.S. even has an instance in history of forced sterilization of people who scored poorly on IQ tests (1924 Massachusetts). It’s shocking that we have based so much on this test. It’s really wild, actually.

If you think about it, there are so many factors that go into how you perform on a test. Your lack of literacy could hinder your ability to display your mathematical skills on word problems. That is a simple example, and this can get very complicated, especially when it comes to NFL competency.

Tests can have a hard time qualifying abstract skills like creativity, social intelligence, motivation, discipline, as well as valor in the face of danger and difficulty. Coleridge Bernard Stroud IV is a young man from the I.E. who went through the competition and recruitment process without his father.

I mean, they were out there making savage memes about my boy being mentally challenged and calling him out of his name!! C.J. then went out and tore up the league, earning comparisons to the league’s best QB’s ever, not just other rookies. Puka Nacua had an incredible season as well, recording the most receiving yards all-time by a rookie (1,486), and would’ve won Offensive Player of the Year in any other year.

A quote from Daniel Jeremiah during the 2023 NFL playoffs: “I have not seen anybody process the field as clearly and as confidently as C.J. Stroud did in their first year in the league”. After he beat the ‘all Ohio State QB’s are busts’ charges, he broke the frame of how we should view intelligence testing. Prospects in the upcoming draft are being advised by Athletes First sports agency to skip the S2 cognition test.

The S2 seeks to measure cognition and wants to separate that from the broader idea of intelligence. You do want to know whether or not your quarterback can process many levels of information very quickly… but how do we get it right?

Since this is a complex topic, I want to open it up for discussion. Please drop a note in the comments if you have thoughts, ideas or alternatives to the cognition test. While I definitely don’t have all the answers, I’m a big proponent of letting game tape be king. Better yet, watch it with him!

Stroud went super saiyan in the clutch against the Colts to get into the playoffs (134.1 QB rating in week 18 elimination game) and against the Browns (157.2 QB rating in the Wild Card round). He finished the year with the 4th-highest QB rating (101.7). Not just among rookies, among all quarterbacks!

He led the league with a 23-5 TD/INT ratio (the youngest to ever accomplish this) and was the first rookie ever to lead the league in INT percentage (1.0). Stroud racked up the third most passing yards by a rookie ever (only Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert had more) and his league-leading yards per game average (274) was 2nd most by any rookie ever.

Stroud entered the playoffs against the Browns and averaged the highest EPA per drop back (whatever that means, Next Gen Stats) of any rookie in the playoffs in the NGS era. Now the youngest QB in history to win a playoff game as well as throwing for the 3rd most yards gained against the league’s #1 pass defense (this while only attempting 5 passes in the 2nd half). 😳

From NFL .com: “Stroud joined Tom Brady (2007) and Joe Montana (1989) as the only QB’s to lead the NFL in passing yards per game and pass TD-INT ratio (minimum 10 games)”. The other two men won MVP that year.

Finally, C.J. Stroud is the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to take a team from worst to first in a division and win a playoff game. Think he passed the test? One quote I love from him: “If I were to compare myself to other people I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at”.

Trying to get guys to figure out how to answer a question about shapes correctly is different than how somebody processes information when the bullets are flying and there are things like spatial awareness, muscle memory, trust in a specific receiver or exotic coverages at play. The history of bias in testing, eugenics and previous beliefs in racial superiority (that even the NFL has had to fight) combine to show us that IQ tests can lack reliability and validity in measuring ability.

I’m not saying we abolish testing… that’s not even feasible or sensible when these executives are making multi-billion-dollar decisions. We can, however, acknowledge that measuring intelligence/cognition/mental capacity is implicitly biased, and difficult to rely on. Maybe the true meritocracy of the National Football League can help teach some truths about society at large.

Just look at this moment of pure jubilation and emotional vindication after the Texans eliminated the Browns in the first round of the 2024 NFL Playoffs. How can you not cheer for this young man, especially in light of the ‘diagnosis’ that he got at the NFL combine last year.

Mr. Stroud clearly displayed that he has other abilities that were not considered in the test that made him effective at the most important position in sports. It is highly commendable that he did not let a test tell him who he was or what his legacy would be! Attempts at measuring a person’s particular set of skills, thankfully has nothing to do with the level of potential that each of us possess.