The ability to find high-caliber contributors at bargain prices is a difference-maker in the NFL. With contracts for superstar players commanding a significant portion of the salary cap, supplementing those stars with talented and reasonably priced players is of utmost importance. While there are a handful of bargain free agents available each year who become difference-makers, the most optimal way to find those high-end contributors at a low cost is through hitting on later-round draft picks.
In preparation for the draft, teams spend years reviewing film, interviewing coaches, combing through testing measurables and more to have the clearest picture of the players. Recently, some teams (including 3 Super Bowl winners) have added the Athletic Intelligence Quotient (AIQ) to boost their evaluation process.
The AIQ measures a player’s sport specific intelligence. It identifies a player’s mental strengths and weaknesses and provides position specific analysis and recommendations so a team learns how to optimize a player as well as identify which players fit best in their scheme.
Psychological tests such as the AIQ help teams make more well-informed decisions on players, aid the player onboarding process, and optimize player development. And studies have shown that players who score highly in the AIQ get on the field more quickly and stay on the field longer.
As the NFL Combine approaches and teams enter the final stretch of draft preparation, many will be looking to the AIQ to help differentiate late-round prospects who they have closely graded.
There are many future starters who will come out of Day 3 of the draft or from Undrafted Free Agency, and the AIQ can help teams figure out who is most likely to become the cream of that crop. Here are six NFL starters taken in Round 5 or later who had excellent AIQ scores:
Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Guard
With an extremely strong and well-balanced profile, nobody who read Trey Smith’s AIQ profile should be surprised that he immediately ascended from 2021 6th Round Pick to Day 1 starter on one of the league’s premier offenses.
With an amazing ability to read and recognize what is going on and find an efficient path in a split second, the AIQ would expect Smith to be a great pulling guard and second level blocker who does not get lost on his way to finding the next defender to block. The Chiefs often use him to do exactly that, as they call the fourth-most counter runs of any team in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Smith finished the 2021 season with a 72.4 overall PFF grade, a particularly high score for a rookie.
Jalen Thompson, Arizona Cardinals Safety
A 5th Round Supplemental Draft pick in 2019, Jalen Thompson has been an excellent value at safety for an underrated Arizona Cardinals defense since moving into a starting role in Week 5 of his rookie season. With particularly high scores in reaction time and decision making, the AIQ forecasted that Thompson’s strong click-and-close ability would translate well in the NFL.
Thompson has had consistently strong PFF grades throughout his time in Arizona and finished out with a 69.0 overall defense grade across the 2021 season. In 58 targets where Thompson was the primary coverage defender this season, he only allowed 17 first downs and accrued three interceptions.
Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver
With strong scores in nearly every category, Marquez Callaway’s AIQ profile is much stronger than your typical Undrafted Free Agent. When Callaway made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp as a rookie in 2020, his expected role was as a core special teamer and depth piece. Instead, he’s ascended into a starting role.
This year, Callaway caught 46 passes for 698 yards and 6 touchdowns. His astute 71.3 and 71.5 PFF offense grades in the past two seasons echo how much of a bargain Callaway has been for a New Orleans team in need of cheap contributors. Next season, Callaway will have a base salary of just $895,000 before becoming a restricted free agent.
Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders Wide Receiver
Hunter Renfrow is often lauded as being one of the more clever and crafty route runners in the NFL, and his AIQ profile reflects that. With above average or superior scores nearly across the board, Renfrow is often a mental step ahead of his opponent, which can be just as important as being a physical step ahead in a game where intelligence has become the true competitive advantage.
As a 5th Round Pick in 2019, Renfrow was not expected to contribute right away. Instead, he became an instant-impact player and was given the nickname of Third-And-Renfrow by Raiders fans. After a rookie season where he caught 49 passes for 605 yards and 4 TDs, many thought he would settle into a career as a reliable rotational WR. This year, he rewrote all expectations with a 103-catch, 1,038-yard output to go with 9 TDs.
Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills Wide Receiver
When Gabriel Davis went off for 8 catches, 201 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Bills’ Divisional Round loss, he put the rest of the NFL on notice. He will be at the top of almost every list of potential breakout stars for next year.
As a former 4th Round Pick, he’s already exceeded expectations with 70 career catches and 13 career touchdowns. The 6-foot-2 Davis graded out with strong scores across the board in the AIQ test, showing the ability to combine high mental acuity with his obvious physical talents. While Davis has already become a consistent starter across his first two seasons in Buffalo, he may have even more room to grow on the field.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars Running Back
Any time a rookie running back has over 1,000 yards, it’s a big deal. James Robinson rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie UDFA in 2020? That was a very big deal. With a balanced and strong AIQ profile, highlighted by superior Learning Efficiency scores, Robinson made the jump from FCS star to NFL star look smooth.
In two seasons of work, Robinson has rushed for 1,837 yards on 4.6 yards per carry while scoring 18 total touchdowns. With his strong learning efficiency and high level of production (including a very strong 3.3 yards per carry after contact), expect Robinson to continue to produce at a high level.