Most NFL draft prospects probably thought their days of test-taking were over.
As the first prospects descend on Indianapolis on Thursday for the start of the scouting combine, they will be asked to take not one, but two tests aimed at measuring their intelligence and aptitude.
But creators of a new measuring stick called the NFL Player Assessment Test believe for the first time they have a tool that will give teams an idea of a player’s football IQ in addition to his book smarts.
The PAT – so called because it is designed to be one of the final scouting tools the way a point-after-touchdown caps a scoring play – will help scouts and general managers see what type of learning and motivational styles best fit a player.
“This should be the last part of the process,” said Cyrus Mehri, the Washington, D.C., attorney who came up with the PAT. “Collect all your other data and at the end look at this and see if there’s a confluence or a divergence with all your other scouting information.”
For years the league has relied on the Wonderlic, developed in the 1930s to measure the intelligence of job applicants. Many wondered whether the exam – with questions such as, “Which months have 31 days?” – was relevant from a football standpoint.
Critics also claimed the Wonderlic, like other standardized tests, was biased against test-takers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Mehri, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said the PAT “is not based on prior knowledge. This has breadth and depth to it.”
Mehri successfully brought discrimination suits against corporate giants such as Texaco, Coca-Cola and Ford. He also helped craft the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching and general manager positions, and co-founded the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which champions minority hiring in the NFL.
Mehri approached the league three years ago about creating an assessment tool. Several teams already were using their own supplementary test to the Wonderlic.
Mehri teamed with industrial psychology expert Henry Goldstein to create the PAT, an hourlong, computerized test with more than 100 questions – 95 percent of them multiple-choice. Mehri wanted a test with “football-related dimensions” that would, among things, attempt to predict a player’s mental toughness.
Mehri first shared the concept with former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, then met with seven former and current general managers last fall to determine what should be included on the test.
“It was fascinating. It was so different than what I expected,” Mehri said. “Every single one of them had a very distinct philosophy and it was like seven roads to the same (goal).”
The one thing all seven GMs wanted was a predictor of off-the-field problems. Mehri informed them that they would have to do their own digging.
“If you wanted to get at those kind of issues, you’d probably have to get into the medical histories. And even then it wouldn’t be accurate,” he said. “You can have a colorful personality, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to do something drastic.”
Accorsi, who consulted on the Panthers’ recent general manager search, said the Wonderlic was in use when he started working in the NFL in 1970.
“The Wonderlic hasn’t changed. There’s been variations of it, but it’s essentially the same,” Accorsi said. “I think it’s served us well. It’s part of the puzzle, but it’s been a valuable tool for us.”
Accorsi said Denver’s John Elway was among the GMs who signed off on the PAT as a 1-year pilot program.
“Testing and all these evaluations have advanced tremendously over the years, and we have been the beneficiary,” Accorsi said. “It’s just one more tool.”
Unlike the Wonderlic, there is not a numerical grade attached to the PAT, which will provide a “coaching summary” that details the recommended method for teaching each prospect.
Officials with the players’ union have yet to see the test. Mehri said the first time anyone takes it will be Thursday when the offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists arrive in Indy.
Former NFL wide receiver Andre Rison doesn’t think players will mind a second exam.
“It’s part of the process. It’s like taking a physical. You can’t play unless you take the physical. It’s just one of the requirements,” said Rison, an assistant at Michigan State. “As a collegiate player, you don’t think of those things. You’re just trying to give your best performance on that stage.”
Mehri believes the performances of many of the test-takers will improve with the PAT.
“If you’re going to be a Pro Bowler in the NFL or in the Hall of Fame, you have to be tremendously smart – football smart,” Mehri said. “But you may not be a guy who performed well in tests in school. I think this is going to provide a lot of information and be really good for guys who are really smart, but not necessarily book smart.”