While the age-old combine tests are back yet again this year, the Miami Dolphins -- for a second straight NFL combine -- are armed with a custom test called siQ (sports IQ) that they'll give to prospects to assess how their brain works.
The team kept the test quiet last year, but authorized Vasu Kulkarni of Krossover, the company that built the test for the team, to talk to ESPN.com about how it works and share some questions from last year.
When a player picks up the iPad -- it's a 20-question test for shorter interviews and a 50-question test for players that get one-on-ones -- they are presented with a series of play scenarios. In some cases, they are asked to recognize formations based on freeze-frame video. In other scenarios, the players are asked what they think will happen next based on how players on the field are positioned. The players are then graded on whether they got the answer right and how quickly they answered it. Here are three screenshots from last year's test.
Last year, Kulkarni said, the best defensive back prospect got 88 percent of the questions right. The worst: 35 percent. The fastest average response time from that position on questions was 1.4 seconds. The worst was 5.35 seconds.
One offensive line prospect at last year's combine scored the highest, getting 93 percent right. That prospect also had the fastest response time of 3.4 seconds.
The idea to make the test came from Ben Alamar, who is currently ESPN's director of sports analytics. Alamar was running analytics for the Oklahoma City Thunder when he gave a presentation on predictive analytics and discussed a paper he had read by German scientists who discovered that better athletes understood what would happen next on a play versus people who just knew and understood the game. Kulkarni was in the audience and told Alamar that based on his experience (Krossover digitizes game highlights for 10,000 games), he could build what Alamar was talking about.
When Alamar went to the Cavaliers in 2012, Kulkarni built a test for him there. But in the two years Alamar was with the team, he said, there was never complete buy-in to give the test to the top prospects.
"There's no magic bullet in getting the evaluation of players perfect," Alamar said. "But I think what they have here is hugely valuable. The concern in evaluating a college player is that they can get away with athleticism whereas they can't at the pro level. You have to have a really good brain. Even if a team goes from properly evaluating 60 percent of players to 65 percent, that's a worthwhile improvement."
Kulkarni said when he presented a football version of what he had to Dolphins executive VP Mike Tannenbaum and his staff, the buy-in was immediate. The test theoretically allows the Dolphins to test concepts that previously have gone untested -- how an athlete evaluates spacing and body language to optimize offensive or defensive decisions.
Alamar uses one example to show the ideal of what can happen when a player understands what is coming up next. It's this play, where Ray Lewis runs at full speed through the offensive line to tackle a running back he is sure is getting the ball.
The Dolphins won't say if they made any major decisions based on the siQ from last year's combine, but Kulkarni said the team stepped up its commitment to the test this year.
He says that while the Dolphins use his program just this week, he envisions the team and perhaps other teams using predictive testing on an everyday basis.
"We hope this can turn into a training tool," Kulkarni said. "Imagine if teams can help make players smarter and train them off the field at a time when taking less hits on the field has great value as well."