NFL’s new Player Assessment Test can’t measure commitment

February 21, 2013 

Because the stakes involve millions of dollars and each team’s competitive future, the NFL is adding further testing to the annual scouting combine this week.

To quantify speed, strength and size is valuable but blind to the intangibles. The Wonderlic is a 12-minute intelligence test open to criticism of cultural bias and relevance on the football field.

So now, they’re trying to dig deeper.

At its website, the NFL revealed a memo it sent to league teams introducing its new Player Assessment Test: “… designed to offer a much more robust and comprehensive assessment of a player’s non-physical capabilities, aptitudes and strengths. … This new test measures a wide range of competencies, including learning styles, motivation, decision-making skills, responding to pressure or unexpected stimuli, and core intellect.”

Well and good, the more insight the better. It remains to be seen if a one-hour computerized test can help define the indefinable, or measure the competitive drive that elevates the few.

Can it give even a hint to the toughness that allowed a Brett Favre to start 297 straight games over 19 seasons after he was virtually ignored in his rookie season with Atlanta? Here was a guy who often made several completely wrong decisions on a single play but still somehow scored a touchdown.

In a test, those decisions would be an F. On the field, they’re a TD.

Maybe even tougher to assess than determination is a player’s motivation. The NFL’s description of the test mentions it. I’m

doubtful.

But the real tricky part is trying to project whether a player who has driven himself to reach the NFL will continue to have the motivation to stay there – especially after receiving that first big paycheck.

Let’s examine the stakes involved: The Seattle Seahawks paid linebacker Aaron Curry a little shy of $30 million to start 30 games and make 5.5 sacks over the course of 21/2 seasons.

They also expended the No. 4 pick in the 2009 draft to get Curry, when future Pro Bowl defenders B.J. Raji, Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews were available.

When Curry was beaten out by rookie fourth-round draft pick K.J. Wright in 2011, the Seahawks managed a trade with Oakland to get a seventh-round pick out of Curry. That’s absurd depreciation even in a recession.

Curry had some injury issues, but even before that, the man who was considered the “safest pick in the draft” showed great athleticism, yet little aptitude for the position.

He was threatening when he lined up, and appeared full of hustle and willingness; he just never looked comfortable or at ease, and got very little accomplished because of it.

The combine showed that he was extraordinarily big and fast and strong, and the interviews revealed a pleasant personality and demeanor. It just didn’t translate to making tackles in the NFL.

Don’t knock the Seahawks, everybody else expected Curry to go near the top of the draft, too.

Seattle’s history of first-rounders is pretty spotty. And some of the unproductive ones seemed to have the competitive fire necessary when drafted. Some of them were young men who came in with stories of overcoming great hardships, and projecting tremendous motivation because of it.

Lamar King was taken with the 22nd pick in the 1999 draft, a defensive end out of Michigan’s Saginaw Valley State. He’d worked taxing jobs to scramble up to a small college and finally the NFL. Few have ever been more eager to prove himself worthy of the opportunity.

He, too, had some injury issues later on but never played with the expected intensity, and collected a mere 94 tackles and 12 sacks in five seasons.

Receiver Koren Robinson had all the measurables at North Carolina State, and Mike Holmgren drafted him with the ninth overall pick in 2001. He was never dedicated to the game enough to fend off the lure of off-field deeds that led to repeated suspensions and rehab.

Will the new test predict such a thing? Can’t imagine how. The new test is another tool, and it might end up saving teams some money.

But it still can’t measure the guts and grit the game requires, and most certainly can’t foretell how a young man will be changed after getting his mom her dream house and buying the tricked-out pickup truck he has always wanted.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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