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On NFL Draft day, a new IQ test takes top position in player scouting

  • NFL draft prospects take multiple assessment tests as part of their evaluation.
  • The Wonderlic test is the best known, but the NFL, NBA, MLB and other sports leagues are leaning on a new IQ assessment test.
  • Beyond sports, pre-employment assessment tests are estimated to be a multibillion-dollar market.
The 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theater on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.
Jonathan Daniel | Getty Images
The 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theater on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

Making the right employee hire is crucial in any work field, whether it be for a start-up, corporation or the high-stakes and high-salary world of the NFL. Finding the right tools to predict the success of a candidate can be challenging in an age of information.

On NFL Draft day, the results from assessment tests already taken by college football players will be factored into draft picks. Football has been using assessment tests ever since legendary Dallas Cowboys' coach Tom Landry introduced the Wonderlic test — an IQ test designed around speed — to the NFL in the 1970s. The Wonderlic also has long been used by companies to evaluate potential employees.

"Typically, IQ tests take three hours, but Wonderlic managed to do a short [12-minute-or-so] version that is almost as valid," Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, told CNBC via email.

He estimated the entire workplace recruitment market at $200 billion and said the pre-employment assessment-testing industry is estimated to be worth as much as $2 billion. Roughly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use assessments to vet their employees.

Testing data helps prepare people for success

Chamorro-Premuzic said companies typically use two types of tests for pre-employment screening: objective performance tests, which basically measure skills, and cognitive abilities tests, like the Wonderlic and the AIQ. In using test data in employment decisions, "they hire for both current job fit but also potential to fit future key roles," the ManpowerGroup executive said.

Among Wonderlic's more recent competition is an assessment test used by teams in the NFL, MLB and NBA, called the Athletic Intelligence Quotient (AIQ). It was developed by Dr. Jim Bowman and Dr. Scott Goldman, the latter of whom currently works for the Miami Dolphins.

"Cognitive ability is the most important factor in solving seemingly unsolvable problems." -Scott Goldman, co-founder of Athletic Intelligence Measures, and director of performance psychology for the Miami Dolphins

While the Wonderlic is a general aptitude test, the AIQ zeros in on intelligence and how fast a person can acquire, process and apply information. The goal is not to eliminate potential draft picks based on test results — or, in the corporate sense, screen out potential employees — but to analyze the way a player's mind works.

"Once you understand how people process information, you can put them in a position of success," said Goldman, co-founder of Athletic Intelligence Measures and director of performance psychology for the Miami Dolphins.

Four NFL teams, five MLB teams and five NBA squads contract Athletic Intelligence Measures for their testing services. Two of the NFL teams using the AIQ assessment have won the Super Bowl, Goldman said. There was even a Super Bowl in which both teams playing had previously used the test. "We probably should have coined it as the AIQ Bowl," he said.

Several teams have been using the test since 2012, and they've been able to use the nearly six years' worth of data to make key findings. Other NFL franchises buy portions of the data derived from tests.

The AIQ is the brainchild of two psychologists

Goldman and Bowman, longtime friends and current business partners, were both still students during the spring of 1998 when heavy debate between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, the top two quarterback prospects in the NFL draft, dominated the sports world. Goldman said the two students discovered the "mental bucket" of the NFL evaluation process during coverage of the combine and when results of the quarterbacks' Wonderlic tests leaked to the media. Leaf scored a 27 on the Wonderlic, while Manning scored 28, though the trajectory of each quarterback's career couldn't have been more different.

The pair of future doctors would spend the next 15 years developing their method of measuring an athletes' mental capabilities. Outside of sports, the AIQ test is also used by a branch of the U.S. Special Operations Forces. Goldman said it could be applied to many other fields, but they haven't been focused on marketing the test.

"Cognitive ability is the most important factor in solving seemingly unsolvable problems," Goldman said.

Jullian Taylor, a 6'4" athletic defensive lineman from Temple University in Philadelphia, was one of many prospects asked to take both the AIQ and Wonderlic assessments as part of teams' evaluation process. Taylor wasn't obsessing over it, though his agent had him study for the Wonderlic. 'Your test score is your test score,' he said.
Mitchell Leff | Getty Images
Jullian Taylor, a 6'4" athletic defensive lineman from Temple University in Philadelphia, was one of many prospects asked to take both the AIQ and Wonderlic assessments as part of teams' evaluation process. Taylor wasn't obsessing over it, though his agent had him study for the Wonderlic. 'Your test score is your test score,' he said.

The use of the AIQ, which takes only about 30 to 35 minutes to administer, and the Wonderlic are not mutually exclusive. NFL teams are having prospects take both assessments.

Jullian Taylor, a 6'4" athletic defensive lineman for Temple University in Philadelphia, was one of many NFL prospects asked to take both assessments as part of the team's evaluation process. He told CNBC that his agent, Dan Saffron of Players First Sports Agency, helped him with Wonderlic prep, but there wasn't much he could do to prepare for the AIQ. "Not really something you can prep for," said Taylor, who is projected to be a day-three pick. "Your test score is your test score. … [It's designed] to show how you think."

Goldman believes creating preparation for the test would be a difficult feat because of the nature of the test, as well as what it's measuring. "You can't improve intelligence," he said.

The AIQ test has been given to more than 4,000 athletes. Leaking of Wonderlic test scores is now common in the lead-up to the NFL draft, but there's been relatively scant data on AIQ test scores. However, it was recently reported after the NFL combine that Oklahoma University quarterback Baker Mayfield submitted a score that was in the top 100 of all time. Mayfield is expected to go in the top five of this year's NFL draft.

Scoring favorably on the AIQ may indicate that Mayfield will be more game-ready than his peers upon being drafted. Yet if a player doesn't score highly, it doesn't mean they can't succeed. "People with low scores can still be successful," Goldman said. "It's a coaching tool."

He explained that the AIQ will allow decision-makers to know which candidates will need more reps and attention to succeed.

Several NCAA teams in the Power 5 conferences use the AIQ. By NCAA rule, teams aren't allowed to use mental assessments in the recruitment of players, but once a student athlete is awarded a scholarship and brought aboard, teams can give them the assessment and figure out how to allocate a coach's most valuable resource — a resource that also is key for corporate managers: time.

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