12 Smart NFL Players

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There is a stereotype that football players are “dumb jocks.” However, in reality, it is far from the truth. The NFL players not only have incredible athletic prowess, but they are also smart.

Playing football is not only about diving head first to your opponents or scoring touchdowns. They need to think quickly and be quick on their feet to perform the moves.

Similarly, NFL players must give a standardised test known as the Wonderlic test before playing the game. The test involves exams that measure the players’ cognitive and problem-solving abilities.

So who are the smartest NFL players?

Smart NFL Players
Smart NFL Players; in Frame Ryan Fitzpatrick (Source: Wikipedia)

To answer this query, we have compiled a list of twelve NFL players who are some of the smartest and most intelligent athletes.

The quarterbacks are considered the smartest players, and their scores on the test are higher than others. But we have tried to include players playing in different positions and underrated players in the league.

Now without further discussion, let us look at the 12 smart NFL players.

Quick Overview

First, here is a quick preview of our players and their positions.

Player Name Position
12. Drew Brees Quarterback
11. Myron Rolle Safety
10. London Fletcher Linebacker
9. Toby Gerhart Running back
8. Desmond Bryant Defensive tackle
7. Greg McElroy Quarterback
6. Shane Bannon Fullback
5. Matt Birk Center
4. Benjamin Watson Tight end
3. Kevin Curtis Wide receiver
2. Peyton Manning Quarterback
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick Quarterback

12 Smart NFL Players

We have compiled our list with references from BleacherReport and CollegeConsensus as primary sources.

12. Drew Brees

We are starting our list with Drew Brees at number 12. He is a former football quarterback who played for 20 seasons in NFL.

Bree attended Purdue University, which is highly rated for its academics, and graduated with a degree in industrial management.

He also played collegiate football and set 19 Prude records, two NCAA records, and 13 Big Ten Conference records.

After his college success, Bree attended the 2001 NFL Draft.

Drew Brees
Drew Brees (Source: Canal Street Chronicles)

The San Diego Chargers selected him as the first pick of the second round as 32nd overall. From 2001 to 2005, he played with the Chargers.

He was named the second-smartest player in the NFL during Sports Illustrated’s poll in 2010.

Likewise, he also has the NFL record for the highest completion percentage in a game and a season. Bree retired from the league after the 2020 season. 

11. Myron Rolle

Number 11 on our list of the 12 smart NFL players is former Bahamian-American football safety, Myron Rolle. He played in NFL only for a brief period.

Rolle attended Florida State University, aspiring to both NFL and medical school. There he played football while completing all pre-medical requirements.

He even postponed playing in NFL to study at Oxford University.

The Tennessee Titans selected Rolle in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft as 207th overall. However, he only played in the off-season.

Myron Rolle
Neurosurgeon Myron Rolle (Source: USA Today)

Similarly, he was briefly part of the Pittsburgh Steelers before being released in 2012. The following year, he left NFL to attend medical school and enrolled at the Florida State University College of Medicine.

Rolle is a neurosurgery resident at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital. The Sporting News chose him as the second-smartest athlete in sports in 2010.

10. London Fletcher

London Fletcher is a former football player who played 16 seasons in NFL. The St. Louis Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent on April 28, 1998.

In his high school and college years, Fletcher played basketball and football. He attended the NFL Scouting Combine and entered the 1998 NFL Draft but was left undrafted.

London Fletcher
London Fletcher (Source: The Washington Post)

Fletcher also played for the Buffalo Bills for five seasons and Washington Redskins for seven years. He is among the only five players to play over 250 consecutive games in NFL history.

Similarly, he holds the record for consecutive starts at the linebacker position. Fletcher’s career highlight wins include Super Bowl champion, two times Second-team All-Pro, four times Pro Bowl, and Barr Starr Award.

Even though London did not graduate from an IVY League school, his smarts and instincts came in handy while in the league to be one of the NFL’s top linebackers.

9. Toby Gerhart

Next, we have Toby Gerhart, a former football running back who played in NFL for only five seasons. The Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

In high school, Gerhart had a record-breaking career as a running back and also played baseball.

He graduated as a valedictorian and attended Stanford University, where he played for the Stanford Cardinal football team.

From 2010 to 2013, Gerhart played for the Vikings and then played for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2014 to 2015.

Toby Gerhart
Toby Gerhart For The Minnesota Vikings (Source: ProFootballTalk – NBC Sports)

After the 2009 MLB draft, he was offered a to play baseball with a lucrative contract.

However, he chose to play football in the 2009 college football season. He was also a member of the 2009 Pac-10’s All-Academic team.

Gerhart majored in Management Science and Engineering. He was undoubtedly one of the smartest players in the NFL.

8. Desmond Bryant

On number 8 of the 12 smart NFL players, we have former football player Desmond Bryant. The Oakland Raiders signed him as a free agent in 2009.

Bryant played football and basketball in high school.

He had a weighted 4.2 grade point average and a 1230 SAT score and was offered by various universities like Duke, Florida A&M, Harvard, and Towson University.

Desmond Bryant
Desmond Bryant For The Cleveland Browns (Source: www.fayobserver.com)

He chose Harvard and received a financial aid scholarship.

He played college football at Harvard and played 32 games in four seasons.

Bryant majored in psychology and was named second-team All-Ivy League while playing college football.

After signing with the Raiders, he played with the team until 2012. Then he played with the Cleveland Browns from 2013 to 2016. The Browns released Bryant on August 22, 2017.

7. Greg McElroy

We have another former football player with a brief career in NFL on our number 7. Greg McElroy was drafted by the New York Jets in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft and played three seasons.

McElroy played high school and college football. He was offered full-scholarship from several Division I football schools, but he chose the proposal from the Alabama Crimson Tide. He graduated from Alabama with a degree in business marketing.

Greg McElroy
Greg McElroy (Source: PennLive.com)

The Sporting News named McElroy as the 20th-smartest athlete in 2010. The following year in NFL Combine, he scored 43 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

McElroy made his NFL debut in 2012 against the Arizona Cardinals. He later signed to the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad on September 1, 2013.

However, on March 21, 2014, he announced his retirement from NFL.

6. Shane Bannon

Shane Bannon is the sixth on our list of the 12 smart NFL players. He played only one season in league with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft as the 223rd overall pick. Bannon played college football at Yale and was on the junior varsity team.

Shane Bannon
Shane Bannon (Source: Yale Athletics)

He was the first Yale football player to be drafted by an NFL team since Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Nate Lawrie in the NFL draft.

Bannon only played in the practice squad before he suffered season-ending injuries in 2011 and 2012.

5. Matt Birk

Matt Birk is a former football player who played for 14 seasons in NFL. The Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft as the 173rd overall.

Birk played multiple sports while in high school, including football. He then attended Harvard University, where he played college football for the Harvard Crimson.

He won the Division I-AA All-Eastern College Athletic Conference first-team football honors.

Matt Birk
Matt Birk For The Minnesota Vikings (Source: KARE 11)

In 1998, Birk graduated from Harvard and entered the NFL draft. Sports Illustrated described him as one of the best Ivy League prospects in several years.

From 1998 to 2008, Birk played for the Vikings, and in 2009, he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. He won the Super Bowl XLVII.

On February 22, 2013, he announced his retirement from NFL. 

4. Benjamin Watson

The fourth smart NFL player is former football tight end, Benjamin Watson. The New England Patriots drafted him in the first round as the 32nd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft.

Watson played college football for Duke and later transferred to the University of Georgia. He majored in finance from Georgia.

He attended the NFL combine, scoring 48 on the Wonderlic test, the third-highest score in NFL history. DraftScout.com ranked him the draft’s third-best tight-end prospect.

Benjamin Watson
Benjamin Watson (Source: Pro Football Rumors)

In his rookie season, Watson won Super Bowl XXXIX with the Patriots. He professionally played for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, and Baltimore Ravens.

He retired from his football playing career on March 16, 2020.

3. Kevin Curtis

On number 3 of the 12 smart NFL players, we have the former football player Kevin Curtis. The St. Louis Rams drafted him in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

Curtis attended Utah State and played collegiate football. His football achievements during his junior year earned him a scholarship for his senior year.

Curtis attended the NFL Combine and scored 48 out of 50 points on the Wonderlic intelligence test. It is the highest verified score, tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Benjamin Watson.

Kevin Curtis
Kevin Curtis (Source: UPI.com)

After being drafted by the Rams and debuting with the franchise, he played three seasons with them.

Curtis also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tennessee Titans in his professional career.

2. Peyton Manning

Nicknamed The Sheriff, Peyton Manning is a former footballer considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The Indianapolis Colts drafted him first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft.

Manning attended the University of Tennessee Volunteers, where he played college football. He received the National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award in his senior year.

After the draft, Manning played 14 seasons with the Colts. Then from 2012 to 2015, he played with the Denver Broncos.

Peyton Manning
One of the Greatest Quarterbacks, Peyton Manning (Source: Britannica)

Manning has the NFL records for the most passing touchdowns in a season, most passing yards in a season, and most touchdown passes in a game.

In addition to his records, he has a long, impressive sheet of career wins and honors.

Manning was inducted into the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame and 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick

And the number 1 player on our list of the 12 smart NFL players is the former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nicknamed “Fitzmagic” and “Fitztragic,” the St. Louis Rams drafted him as the 250th overall in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Fitzpatrick attended Harvard University and played college football. He was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and received the George H. “Bulger” Lowe Award in 2004.

During the NFL Combine, The Wall Street Journal reported that Fitzpatrick scored 48 out of 50 on the Wonderlic test, which he completed in nine minutes.

Ryan Fitzpatrick
Smartest Player in NFL Ryan Fitzpatrick (Source: The Guardian)

However, Fitzpatrick’s score is not the highest among NFL quarterbacks.

Since his debut with the Rams in 2005, he played for several other NFL franchises for 17 seasons. He announced retirement in the 2022 off-season.

Fitzpatrick holds the record for the most career passing yards and passing touchdowns without a postseason appearance among NFL quarterbacks.

Conclusion

With this, we would like to conclude our 12 smart NFL players list. They prove that the stereotype of “dumb jocks” is nothing but stereotypes.

These players have both athleticism and intelligence.

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