C.J. Stroud could help change an outdated draft tradition

C.J. Stroud performed poorly in one part of the pre-draft process, but that didn’t stop the Texans from drafting him second overall. Could a precedent be in the making?

These days, there are a dizzying amount of factors that go into the NFL pre-draft process, and one of them is the S2 cognition test.

First birthed in 2016, S2 cognition has grown increasingly popular in recent years and is currently used by fifteen NFL teams. Notably, the Houston Texans are one of the teams that don’t employ its services.

Its predecessor was the Wonderlic, which was essentially the SATs for draft prospects and had several shortcomings when it came to assessing both a player’s ability to understand a playbook and one’s ability to execute it.

The S2 test gained more national recognition this past offseason when Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud reportedly scored in the 18th percentile; by contrast, Alabama’s Bryce Young’s S2 scores were off the charts in the upper 90th percentiles.

Those two quarterbacks ended up being taken first and second overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, and one cautious takeaway might be: S2 scores don’t really matter. They provide more of a general guideline than a pass-fail rubric for prospective quarterback talents, and moving forward, the tests may start falling out of favor due to their unappealing consequences.

Young scored high on the test, but he was already primed to be a top-five pick, and the scores didn’t necessarily increase his draft stock by a large margin. Stroud, who did poorly, suffered an ever-so-slight hit in his draft stock once his results became public.

This didn’t matter to Houston, who took Stroud second overall ahead of other quarterbacks who scored better on the S2 (Will Levis, Anthony Richardson).

So what does this all mean going forward? Take the S2 and any other standardized tests with a grain of salt.

Texans looked past C.J. Stroud’s dismal S2 scores and still drafted him second

Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr believes quarterbacks should consider opting out of the S2 test in the future, and that they may already be quietly doing so.

Orr gives his reasoning:

There truly is no advantage for a quarterback to take it. While it may have ultimately helped Young’s stock, it’s hard to go into a test that claims to accurately quantify traits such as instincts, angle control, motor learning and risk tendency without knowing how you will perform and, ultimately, without knowing whether those results will be weaponized against you.

Broken down into more detail, the S2 Cognition test consists of eight parts, each of which focuses on a specific skillset. For example, one part tests a player’s distraction control, another part measures perception speed, another tests spatial memory, and so on.

All these skills are connected to one’s quarterback play in some way, but there are so many other factors to consider. The segments of the test are weighed unequally, and just because a quarterback tests well overall doesn’t mean he would be a good fit for every NFL offense.

The S2 Cognition seems to pose as a more advanced version of the Wonderlic as data scientists continue to learn how players are wired to react on the field; it’s a truly honest attempt at trying to measure how the brain processes information in real-time.

For Stroud, though, the S2 test took a backseat to his other quantifiable traits as a signal-caller, and that may be the case for future generations as well. As he said himself, he’s not a test-taker. He’s a quarterback.

An all-encompassing test like the S2 is merely another tool at NFL teams’ disposal. The Texans chose to ignore it this draft — will other teams follow in their footsteps next year?

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