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College football’s best prospects might think they’ve ditched the classroom, but they still need to take one big exam before they are picked in the NFL Draft: the S2 Cognition test.
The S2 test replaced the now-out-of-date Wonderlic test, which was used to determine general intelligence. The S2 instead measures how quickly players can process data.
Testing skills aren’t everything but can help split hairs in coin-toss situations. In 2023, the reportedly shockingly-poor S2 results of Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud catalyzed a plummet in betting odds for him to be a top selection in the draft, and Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis are now both much more popular picks.
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Each S2 evaluation is composed of nine different tests and can yield a maximum score of 99. The S2 is seen as a more comprehensive evaluation of a football player because it measures football-related skills as opposed to general knowledge and school test retention.
“S2 Cognition helps athletes better understand why they excel and struggle in certain areas of their game by revealing how their brain is wired to perform,” says S2’s website. “The S2 Eval is the only sports evaluation that scientifically measures an athlete’s game-speed cognitive abilities down to a millisecond level — and provides tailored, on-field drills designed by top-level coaches to measurably improve performance.”
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, widely viewed as a boom-or-bust prospect that scored well on the S2, explained what the test was like.
“They want to see how fast you can recall things and notice certain things,” said Richardson. “On one of the [questions], you had to look at six balls that they highlighted and they move all over the screen. You had to pick out the balls and highlight them. I’m like, ‘How can I focus on six balls at once?’”
According to S2’s site, the evaluation measures these “mental instincts”:
The NFL does not require prospects to take the S2, and not every team uses it in their evaluations. However, every team has some sort of mental capacity and processing analysis they use to help figure out their favorite athletes.
The S2 test made its way to the NFL in 2015 in place of the Wonderlic test. The Wonderlic was more similar to the SAT, as participants answered 50 math, vocabulary, and reasoning questions in 12 minutes.
Quarterbacks are expected to perform especially well since they have the most influence in the game because they touch the ball more than any other position (barring the center).
The S2 is not designed to be used as a standalone tool to decide a player’s potential in the NFL but can be used to help settle close debates.
“If I'm a general manager, it's more likely that I'm going to utilize this tool if we love two players the same,” said Ally. “I just don't see GMs and front offices saying, ‘Eh, we really don't like this guy but his S2 is good, let's take him.’”
Strong S2 scores, to Ally’s point, do not mean that a player is destined for a Hall of Fame career. That being said, many of the league’s best quarterbacks performed well on the S2 test.
A score of 91 or better projects “top-tier starters” in the NFL. Players that have landed in this group include MVP candidates Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, breakout star Justin Fields, and rookie hero Brock Purdy.
Alleged S2 scores from the 2023 crop of QB prospects leaked; Young led the way with a historic 98%. Fresno State’s Jake Haener also scored an impressive 96%, and Levis and BYU’s Jaren Hall both scored 93%.
Quarterbacks produce a significantly higher average test score than other positions (68 to 50).
The full list of reported scores for the 2023 QBs is as follows:
S2 also used a regression model to analyze 27 starting quarterbacks’ S2 scores related to their performance. They found that the S2 score equaled 28.7% of their career passer rating, which was significantly higher than other common tests like college completion percentage (13.5%) and Wonderlic scores (0.01%).
While the minds behind the S2 are confident in the test, founder Brandon Ally said “to take some of those [results] with a grain of salt.”
NFL teams will always look at production, tape, and physical measurements when evaluating prospects, regardless of their S2 scores. There are players every year that see their stock skyrocket after the combine because of standout performances in tests such as the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, bench press, and others.
All of that does not mean that prospects are above the S2 test. It is not as discriminatory against players that may have come from poor educational backgrounds or were not provided access to the best tools to ace a school-like exam such as the Wonderlic.
More than ever, teams need their quarterbacks to be intelligent and reactionary on the field. The NFL has sculpted the rulebook to benefit teams that prioritize airing the ball to add more excitement to games. But at the same time, defensive schemes are becoming exotic and, similar to the NBA, positionless in certain respects.
The bottom line is that game intelligence in a quarterback is very important. A poor S2 score does not mean that a player cannot become great in the league, but it does mean that teams have the right to be hesitant about their future.
Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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