This article was first published today in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekday here.  

It was supposed to be CJ Stroud's big night. Suddenly, Stroud is counting up his diminishing options ahead of this evening's NFL draft in Kansas City (Sky Sports Action and Main Event, from 8pm).

Some people would have you believe he might be unable to get past two or three – and that's using his fingers. The former Ohio State quarterback was widely regarded as the second best in his position in the whole draft behind Bryce Young, from Alabama – and some experts argue he's the best.

But that was before the results of Stroud's S2 Cognition Test started wafting around league circles. The 21-year-old is alleged to have scored 18 out of 100 in a test that measures decision making and other competencies.

In the NFL, a world where players are expected to digest complex schemes and plays, this is seen as a bad thing. It's also up for debate just how accurate the S2 test is and, indeed, whether the rumours are even true about Stroud's result.

“What I will say is the list of scores that I have seen, two of those scores are not accurate, they’re not accurate at all,” said Brendan Ally, a co-founder of the S2 Test. “Some of the reasoning could be for narrative purposes, the other reasons are they don’t have context.”

For “narrative purposes” read a team, or teams, who might well have leaked a rumour and allowed it to foster in the hope that Stroud will fall further down the draft than expected and into their grateful hands.

What's particularly amusing is the importance placed on intelligence in a sport that once encouraged players to crash head first into each other. Okay, The Fixture jests. The quarterback must ingest a voluminous playbook each offseason, requiring an instantaneous recall on upwards of 1000 passing and running plays that the offense might well use over the course of a game.

But what's this you say? If only there was some kind of measuring stick to gauge players by or an opportunity to watch players in the flesh and ascertain their capability for the job. Perhaps it might be a catalogue of matches they've already played in for their university in a league against other university sides. Wait? That already exists? And Stroud has twice been voted one of the best players at that level? So, what's the deal?


American football scouts and coaches – like in any other sport – sometimes find themselves with multi-million dollar decisions to make and too much time on their hands. And, so, people sit around tables watching video tape for months talking themselves out of the bleedin obvious. They find reasons not to pick someone rather than a reason to do it and Stroud seems to be this year's unwitting, most high-profile fall guy.

It presents an interesting parallel with that other version of football so beloved on this side of the Atlantic. Imagine if our teams decided against signing players because they weren't members of Mensa – we'd never have heard Welshman Ian Rush get to say that joining Juventus in Italy didn't suit him because it was “like playing in a different country” or David Beckham proudly proclaiming: "I definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but I don't know into what religion yet."

Which just goes to show that being a great athlete rarely has the kind of correlation with the dictionary definition of intelligence that makes a material difference. Indeed, in a 2012 interview with Wayne Rooney, the journalist and author David Winner argued that sportspeople required a separate category all of their own, pointing out to Rooney that employing visualisation techniques and implementing them in games was a form of sporting intelligence that mere mortals would be unable to achieve.

One point that Rooney made himself encapsulated Winner's point.

"What people don't realize is that it's obviously a physical game, but after the game, mentally, you're tired as well," said Rooney. "Your mind has been through so much. There's so many decisions you have to make through your head. And then you're trying to calculate other people's decisions as well. It's probably more mentally tiring than physically, to be honest."

As in soccer, so in American football, a game in which actual playing time is much shorter. The S2 Test replaced the out-of-date Wonderlic Test last year as some NFL franchises' preferred method of grading a player's intelligence. Morris Claiborne recorded the lowest score of all time with a four out of 50 mark when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012. He has since gone on to establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl in 2020 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Frank Gore, a running back who registered a score of six, went on to record 16,000 rushing yards and 81 touchdowns in a 15-year career.

Both Claiborne and Gore's achievements are persuasive reminders that measuring the mental agility to perform tests designed to elicit certain findings in an attempt to predict sporting prowess is actually a futile exercise – and it's actually pretty stupid to think otherwise.