It doesn’t matter how fast a player’s 40 time is or how many reps he can crush on the Bench Press—if he can’t handle the mental side of the game, he won’t be of much use to an NFL franchise.
It’s not just about being able to learn a playbook, either. It’s about being able to process and digest information lightning-fast and then being able to act on it. If an offensive lineman sees a safety suddenly screaming toward the line of scrimmage right before the snap, for example, he needs to know exactly how the unit’s pass protection scheme will change and who he is responsible for blocking.
It’s not a skill that can be found via the Wonderlic test, so coaches have turned to other methods. Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie utilizes a deck of cards to see how well prospects can analyze and remember information. At the 2017 NFL Combine, Wylie used the technique to test Indiana University’s Dan Feeney (who went on to be drafted 71st overall by the San Diego Chargers). At a recent Browns’ press conference, Wylie went more in-depth into his unique test.
“So you take cards, 1 through 9, I just use a deck of cards because it’s easy and everyone thinks I was doing magic tricks; I wasn’t,” Wylie said. “You take a deck of cards and you put the numbers face up, three across the top, however order you want to put them in, then the player or the prospect, he has to remember the numbers in so many seconds, say it’s 15 seconds, and then I turn them face down. Then I tell them, pick up all the even cards, low to high. Pick up all the odd cards, high to low. Pick up two cards that equal to six. Pick up another two cards that equal to six. Pick up three cards that equal to 11.”
Wylie believes this exercise helps paint a better picture of how well and how quickly a prospect can process information on the football field. If they perform very poorly, it’s an immediate red flag. Knowing how well a player can process information is becoming an increasingly important part of scouting as the gap between college schemes and NFL schemes continues to grow.
“A lot of the colleges run those spread offenses, they’ve got four running plays and two protections, well, they get it done,” Wylie said. “Over here, we may have 21 protections and 25 runs and the defense has 17 different coverages they’re showing you in one game, so it’s a little different. That’s what that was for.”
It’s just another unique insight into how NFL teams try to get inside the mind’s of top prospects at the Combine.