Sports agency Athletes First is letting its clients skip cognitive

Sports agency Athletes First is letting its clients skip cognitive testing before the NFL Draft

Athletes First is instructing its NFL Draft prospects not to participate in cognitive testing as part of the pre-draft evaluation process this year. Athletes First, one of the leading agencies representing NFL players, emailed NFL teams last month to inform them of the decision.

Three executives from two different NFL clubs confirmed they received the email.

“After much internal discussion, Athletes First agents have instructed our draft prospects to respectfully refrain from participating in any cognitive or psychological testing during the pre-draft process (e.g. AIQ, S2, etc.),” it said in the email.

Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud is not mentioned by name, but this new policy is a clear response to Stroud's experiences last spring. In April, veteran NFL writer Bob McGinn, a former contributor to The Athletic, reported that Stroud scored 18 out of 100 on the S2 test, one of several cognitive tests NFL teams ask players to take in the pre-draft process.

Stroud, who is represented by David Mulugheta of Athletes First, was eventually picked No. 2 before winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and leading Houston to the playoffs.

“We understand that many of your teams use these tests or protocols as part of your prospect evaluation process, however, our recent experiences with these checks have been less than positive,” the email continued. “In particular, the fact that certain results and performance were publicly disclosed last year shows that there is truly no confidentiality in these tests. It's not okay for a player's intelligence, talent or mental ability to be publicly discussed and ridiculed – no other interview is subject to the same scrutiny.

“Although our clients are happy to participate in the standard pre-draft physical activities as well as football-related interviews or film reviews, we will not subject them to the numerous psychological tests.”

At the time of publication, several Athletes First agents had not responded to The Athletic's request for comment. A representative for S2 declined to comment.

The S2 cognitive test was first used by NFL teams before the 2016 draft; The Nashville-based company is currently under contract with half of the league's 32 teams. The test has gained traction in recent years and is praised for its ability to measure a player's cognitive abilities – particularly quarterbacks.

The S2 is a nine-part test battery and – unlike its Wonderlic predecessor – does not measure an athlete's intelligence, but rather their processing speed, reaction time and ability to process information and react under duress. It takes approximately 45 minutes and is performed using a specially designed gaming laptop and a response pad that tracks pattern recognition and impulse control. In 2022, the NFL announced it would stop administering the Wonderlic.

Athletes First represents 29 prospects in the 2024 class, including players such as Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner, LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas, Oregon tackle Taliese Fuaga, Oklahoma tackle Tyler Guyton, Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson and Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean. The agency does not represent a top quarterback in this year's draft class.

The Athletic reached out to the agents of two other major player agencies, and both said their agencies had not issued a blanket ban like Athletes First.

— Zak Keefer contributed to this report.

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