Was Brock Purdy’s emergence predictable? S2 Cognition test has pointed to NFL success
If you watched Brock Purdy at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, you would have seen a quarterback with below-average height, a merely adequate arm and foot speed that, while good, didn’t separate him from the pack.
The test he absolutely aced — and one that predicted his brilliant rookie season for the 49ers — was administered out of public view. Purdy landed in the mid 90s on something called the S2 Cognition test, a score you might consider Drew Brees-like. Which is to say, it’s elite.
The S2 isn’t an intelligence test like the 50-question Wonderlic exam but rather measures how quickly and accurately athletes process information. It’s like the 40-yard dash for the brain.
”The game will never be too fast for Brock, I’ll say that,” said Brandon Ally, a neuroscientist and cofounder of Nashville-based S2 Cognition. “I don’t think he’ll ever have trouble adjusting.”
The exam lasts 40 to 45 minutes. It’s performed on a specially designed gaming laptop and response pad that can record reactions in two milliseconds. To put that in perspective, an eye blink lasts 100 to 150 milliseconds.
In one section of the exam, a series of diamonds flash on the screen for 16 milliseconds each. Every diamond is missing a point, and the test taker must determine — using left, right, up or down keys — which part is missing.
In another, the test seeks to find out how many objects an athlete can keep track of at the same time. In another, there are 22 figures on the screen and the athlete must locate a specific one as quickly as possible. The object might be a red triangle embedded in other shapes that are also red.
“We’re talking about things they have to perceive on the screen within 16/1,000th of a second, which is essentially subliminal and which scientific literature says you shouldn’t be able to process,”
He couldn’t give out Purdy’s exact score because it’s privileged information but said it was in the “mid 90s.” That’s about where Brees, the former Saints quarterback famous for lightning-fast decision-making, scored and where two of the top passers in the league now, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen, also landed. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow took the test while at LSU and agreed to allow S2 to disclose the information. Of course he did — he scored in the 97th percentile.
“We consider anything above the 80th percentile to be elite"
For decades the NFL used the Wonderlic to measure intelligence. The questions start out easy — What’s the eighth month of the year?
, for example — and get progressively more difficult. Most people can’t finish the 12-minute exam. While a high Wonderlic score suggests a quarterback knows how to study and will remember the playbook, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll hold up well against a zero blitz.
Brees is a good example. He got a 28 on the Wonderlic, which is very good, but not superior. His S2 score, meanwhile, was exceptional. Ally said the cognition test not only can forecast whether a quarterback will be successful in the NFL, it comes close to predicting the quarterback’s career passer rating.
The company recently looked at 27 starting quarterbacks. (Some of the older veterans like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers had entered the league before S2 began testing in 2015 and there are no scores for them; Brees took the test while already playing in the NFL.) Of that group, 13 had a career passer rating above 90. The average S2 score of those players was the 91st percentile. Those with passer ratings below 90 had much lower test results. "Those 14 guys, the average score was in the low 60s,”
According to Ally, the 49ers quarterback did particularly well in three areas. One of them was spatial awareness, which translates in several aspects of the game, including how well a quarterback can assess a defense before the snap.
Another area in which Purdy excelled was distraction control.
“Those are the guys — and Drew Brees was one of those — who, the pocket, the world could be collapsing around them and they can just maintain that steely focus on what they’re supposed to be doing,” Ally said.
Finally, Purdy was especially impressive when it came to depth perception speed.
“He was in some pretty elite company,” Ally said. “I mean, he was in the high 90s on that.”
As for the 49ers’ other young quarterback, Trey Lance? Ally couldn’t reveal the exact number but said Lance scored well. "He’s not in the Brock Purdy range but he didn’t score poorly,” he said