NFL Combine: New Player Assessment Test Examines Prospects' Psychological Makeup

Jed Hughes@JedhugheskfCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2013

J.J. Watt, former No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft was certainly assessed well on non-physical characteristics at the NFL Scouting Combine.
J.J. Watt, former No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft was certainly assessed well on non-physical characteristics at the NFL Scouting Combine.Bob Levey/Getty Images

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week, the league introduced its new Player Assessment Test, designed by Cyrus Mehri of the Fritz-Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of NFL teams. 

The new assessment test has been designed to measure attributes outside of players' physical capabilities.  Traditionally, non-physical characteristics have been given the short shrift.  Rather, the focus has been placed on who is the fastest and the strongest.

This new test measures learning styles, motivation, decision-making skills, response to pressure and unexpected stimuli, and core intellect.  For example, it analyzes facial characteristics, which are one of the instinctual responses to stressful situations.

One critique of the NFL's Wonderlic test was that it focused too highly on "book smarts."  The new Player Assessment Test levels the playing field for people who have different learning styles.  For instance, some people learn better through demonstration, while others excel from reading a playbook. 

The NFL informed owners that this new assessment tool is intended to be a supplement to existing measurements done at the NFL Combines, rather than as a replacement for the Wonderlic test, which was developed by Dallas Cowboys' Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry in the 1970s.

The new Player Assessment Test helps clubs assess their incoming players in three key areas: Self-motivation, football intelligence and mental toughness.  Although psychological assessments do not typically draw the attention of highlight reel events, such as the 40-yard dash or the bench press, they can play a vital role in the selection of prospects.

At 6'5" and 290 pounds, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans undoubtedly is an imposing physical specimen.  Equally important are the non-physical characteristics of the former Wisconsin standout that were charted at the 2011 combine: "A hard-working, intelligent, relentless player...Watt will give you everything he's got and is certainly a first-round selection."  Talk about an assessment that was on the mark!  

Drive and relentlessness are characteristics that separate players like Hall of Famer Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers from their contemporaries, who may have been equally as fast and strong.

The new 60-minute assessment will help coaches better understand the behavioral makeup on individuals, how they would perform on the field and how to deal with them off the field.  During the development process, Mehri interviewed six general managers to identify the key qualities, such as drive, mental toughness and response to adversity—all traits that make up a good football player. 

Coaches and general managers can use this assessment tool to determine the likelihood that the prospect will fit into the system a team currently has in place.  This test aims to give clubs a better understanding of an individuals’ behavioral makeup and coachability, and will define if a personality fits into team chemistry and the direction the franchise is pursuing.

As organizations place high emphasis on drafting well and building from within, more focus will be shifted towards assessments that have an impact on the future direction of the team.  Franchises such as the Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks have reversed their fortunes primarily on their successful NFL drafts.  Making accurate assessments of draft choices is critical to sustained success in the National Football League.

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are New York Jets GM John Idzik, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, New York Jets President Neil Glat and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.