5 of the Smartest Players in NFL History

When you watch football, you see a majority of players have a solid understanding of the game, of course – they have to! And many of them have been to and graduated from college with degrees. But how do they stack up in intelligence off the field? Keep reading to learn about some of the smartest NFL players!

How is Intelligence Measured in the NFL?

Measuring intelligence is tough and often debated. There are GPA’s, SAT/ACT scores, IQ scores, and other tests that can measure just how smart you are. One method the NFL used to use is the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test, also simply known as the Wonderlic Test. 

This assessment measures cognitive and problem solving abilities. Started in 1936, the NFL used the test from the late 1960’s until 2022. During the NFL Scouting Combines, the Wonderlic Test would be given to NFL hopefuls. It scores between 1 and 50, with an average score of 20 among football players – though they were looking for at least a 21 in the quarterback position.

However, since the test isn’t used anymore, creating these rankings will require a deeper dive into the players’ GPA’s, standardized test scores, and IQ tests!

5 of the Smartest NFL Players

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick announced his retirement from the NFL in June 2022, after being the starting quarterback for a whopping nine teams – the most in NFL history. But FitzMagic actually graduated from Harvard with a degree in Economics! During his college career, he was named Ivy Player of the Year and the winner of the George H.”Bulger” Lowe Award. Fitzpatrick also led Harvard to a 10-0 record and won the Ivy League Championship.

Although there were rumors that he had received a perfect score of 50 on the Wonderlic Test, it was, in fact, a 48 – still extremely impressive and is actually a three way tie for the highest reported score. Fitzpatrick would be drafted by the St. Louis Rams and go onto a 17-year run in the NFL, retiring after a season with the Washington Football Team.

2. Benjamin Watson

Benjamin Watson was a tight end in the NFL, most notably with the New England Patriots. Drafted in 2004 in the first round, Watson had also received a 48 on the Wonderlic Test. Initially playing football at Duke University after being accepted due to his academic record. He would later transfer to the University of Georgia and major in finance.

Watson actually wrote a memoir, Under Our Skin, that talks about race relations, his intelligence, and overcoming stereotypes.

3. Byron “Whizzer” White

Going back in time a bit, we come to Byron “Whizzer” White, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Lions in 1938 and 1940 to 1941 as a halfback. Prior to his short NFL career, he played for the Colorado Buffaloes and graduated the class valedictorian. In between those seasons, White was given a Rhodes scholarship and attended Oxford. 

With the start of World War II, however, Whizzer joined the Navy, where he would become an intelligence officer and win two Bronze Stars. After his return, he attended Yale Law School and graduated magna cum laude. Later he was named to the U.S. Supreme Court by President John F. Kennedy, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 2003, he died in 2002). 

4. Alan Page

Alan Page was an impressive defensive tackle who, after graduating with his Bachelor’s from the University of Notre Dame, played with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears between 1967 and 1981. A Hall of Famer, Page would play in four Super Bowls and study law at the University of Minnesota at the same time. 

Page graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1978 and would be appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. 

5. Pat Haden

Playing between 1976 and 1981 for the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Pat Haden would receive a Rhodes Scholarship, graduate magna cum laude, play at the University of Southern California,  attend Oxford, and earn his law degree from Loyola. Haden practiced law between 1982 and 1987 and was a partner at a law firm from 1987 to 2010. 

The quarterback had a 27-7 record as a starter during his first 3 seasons but was unable to play after breaking his finger. Haden also worked as a broadcaster for Notre Dame coverage and was the athletic director at his alma mater, USC.

These are just five of the most intelligent NFL players – there are dozens more! It’s exciting to see these players on the field, of course, but it’s also exciting to see what they do with their careers after they retire from the game!

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