An athlete’s life is filled with high expectations. Day in and day out they need to perform on a specific level in order to not disappoint their parents, coaches, and eventually (if they’re lucky) millions of fans. An athlete is not only supposed to be a role model, which means he should act in a way which society perceives as “correct”. More and more often we also expect athletes to be smart.
A professional athlete is now expected to be outspoken and witty. He’s supposed to make a good talk show guest and make fans beg for him to enter broadcasting because of the way he speaks. Also, a professional athlete should make the right decisions concerning his money. This means surrounding himself with the right investors who make the smart decisions for them. And last but not least, they must engage in smart activities, that… smart people do. I’m not particularly smart, so if you know what smart people are up to these days, let me know in the comments. Is reading books still a thing? It doesn’t take that much to make smart use of your time, right?
With that being said, here are 10 NFL football players who are surprisingly smart and 5 who aren’t too bright. Please keep in mind that this doesn’t concern their in-game decisions. When it comes to football (most of) these guys are as smart as they come.
15. Smart: Alex Smith
His rebirth as a very functional quarterback in the NFL is a touching and inspiring story, but there’s more to Alex Smith than being a game manager. The 2005 first overall draft pick entered the league after three years at Utah and began to work on his master’s degree immediately after being drafted. Imagine being regarded as the best rookie in the nation and embarking on a long and successful professional journey in football, but first hitting the books. Wouldn’t education be the last thing on your mind? During his time in Utah, his GPA was 3.74. Not too shabby. This clearly shows his ability to focus and is a big reason he is enjoying his current success.
14. Smart: Richard Sherman
Outspoken cornerbacks make for great interviews. This has been true ever since Deion Sanders entered the NFL and the tradition is still alive thanks to Richard Sherman. The man may come off as brash and pompous (especially after the Erin Andrews/Michael Crabtree incident), but it’s somewhat certain that through his antics he’s actually making his franchise more marketable. Apart from his extraordinary play and larger than life charisma, Richard Sherman is very smart. He had a 4.1 GPA in high school. The Compton-raised talent was the first person from his neighbourhood to earn a Stanford scholarship. It’s a shame we won’t see more of him this season, as his press conferences are always interesting and insightful.
13. Not So Bright: Ben Roethlisberger
When your nickname is BDB – short for Big Dumb Ben – odds are you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed. He has two Super Bowl rings to his name but is also known for less than intelligent off-the-field incidents. In 2009 and 2010 has was arrested for assault. In consequence he was suspended for the first six games of the 2010 season by the NFL. Luckily Big Ben is now married with children and has put that stuff behind him. However that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make questionable decisions time and time again. More recently his team joined the national anthem protest. After some time though Roethlisberger publicly stated that this was a mistake. Way to keep locker room unity Ben! Instead of resolving the issue internally, he decided to talk to the press about it – this is a move expected of a rookie, not the savvy veteran Big Ben is supposed to be.
12. Smart: Sam Acho
The former 4th round pick and Arizona Cardinal is currently on the Bears as part of a typically-hard nosed defence from the Windy City. When you’re voted one of the 20 smartest athletes in professional sports by Sporting News, that’s pretty good company to be in. While he’s been picked for his general intellect, his 3.62 GPA at the University of Texas also speaks for itself – Acho is one smart dude. His former coach said that Acho can make plays based on his intelligence alone. Add that to his enormous size and you’d think that he is doing incredible as a pro in the NFL. He’s not quite dominating, but he’s doing quite well for himself.
11. Smart: Blaine Gabbert
Remember how I wrote in the introduction that MOST of the guys on this list are as very smart when it comes to playing football, but they’re also smart off the field? Blaine is that honourable exception. Here’s a guy who scored a ridiculous 42 on the Wonderlick Test. While the test is supposed to, among other things, assess one’s ability to solve problems and work on a team, Gabbert can be proof that the whole thing is a lie. Yes, he was great in college, worthy of the 10th pick he was taken with by the Jaguars, but did you see his performance in the pros? Not great. He scored just 38 passing touchdowns during his seven years in the league. Blake Bortles, the current starter for the Jags, who’s also not very good, got 35 TDs in his second season alone. Put that intelligence to good use Blaine!
10. Not So Bright: Desmond Bryant
Another Harvard graduate on this list, but for all the wrong reasons. Desmond Bryant was released in 2017 by the Browns, which is like being released by McDonald’s in real-life. OK, sometimes smart people can suffer rejection and misunderstanding. Signed as a free agent by the Raiders, Bryant got into the league in 2009. He stayed there up until last season. Just a couple of years ago he could make the list of the smartest players in the NFL if it wasn’t for one drunken night in 2013. His mugshot, with his eyes half-closed and tongue sticking out is a testament that not every Harvard guy is immune to making some dumb choices. Desmond Bryant definitely is not.
9. Smart: Benjamin Watson
The 36-year-old Benjamin Watson still remains productive for the Ravens as a tight end, which is a testament to his outstanding intelligence. Every player who’s able to produce despite his body giving out is playing more with his brain than with his physical presence. The fact that Watson majored in finance at Duke is proof of his incredible intellectual capability. His 48 score at the Wonderlic test is another sign of that. He also wrote a book “Under Our Skin” about race relations in America. He’s very outspoken about social issues and has his own foundation. With this level of off the field intelligence it is no doubt he will continue to succeed even after his lengthy career ends.
8. Smart: Stefen Wisniewski
Stefen is a big guy, which is what you have to be if you want to play centre in the NFL. He might not look like it considering his size and weight, but Wisniewski is a pretty smart guy. He was drafted in 2011 by the Oakland Raiders, then played for the Jaguars before landing at his current position in Philadelphia with the Eagles. He was a three-time Academic All-Star during his time at Penn State. It may be farfetched to call the man a genius, but he’s probably the most unlikely guy on this list when you think about intellect. That’s where judging the book by the cover will get you. That’s a lesson for all of you, don’t ever do that.
7. Not So Bright: Antonio Cromartie
There are two things that make Antonio Cromartie a great addition to this list and both involve his children. First is that he can’t remember the names of his children. He has fourteen of them so his job is more difficult than the average dad’s, but they’re his children, he spends time with them every day, this should come naturally. There are more than fourteen plays in the NFL playbook to learn by heart, you can learn the names of your children as well. The second stupid fact about Cromartie is that he had three children… since his vasectomy. The surgical procedure that’s supposed to prevent you from having children just doesn’t work on him. By now he should learn that either the procedure was botched or nobody believes him, or at least he should be more careful!
6. Smart: Ryan Fitzpatrick
A great big bearded Harvard boy! The most obvious pick on this list must be a guy who scored 1580 (out of 1600) on his SAT and majored in business in one of the most esteemed colleges in the world. He was picked pretty late in the draft (in the 7th round) despite being the MVP of the Ivy League. His football career wasn’t quite as stellar as his test scores though. His tenure with the Jets was especially eventful, and he currently sits at 47-69. He’s now a backup on the Buccaneers and will make just $3 million, which is a pretty significant downgrade from the $12 million he made in New York. He should find work easily after football with that great background.
5. Smart: Jacob Tamme
Currently a free agent, Jacob Tamme enjoyed a good NFL career. No Pro Bowl appearances to his name, yet 259 receptions and 14 touchdowns are enough to label you a decent player. It didn’t hurt that he pretty much followed Peyton Manning around for his career. The numbers may not be stand out performances for the former Colt, Bronco and, most recently Falcon when compared to his 3.82 GPA. Tamme graduated from Kentucky with a master’s degree in business administration. He was a first-team Academic All American – an honorary sports team composed of the most outstanding student athletes in the country. First-team! While he made plenty of money in the NFL, he’ll be fine to find work if he decides to hang them up.
4. Not So Bright: Rob Gronkowski
If you’re ever in need of a stereotypical jock, look no further than Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is a party animal who not only claims that he invented the term “party rocking,” but that the activity itself is good for you because you’re exercising and having a good time simultaneously. He’s not particularly fond of reading or studying, which makes his decision to play professional football (instead of being, I don’t know, a teacher?) the smartest thing he’s ever done. Also consider “Gronk’s Party Ship” – an actual website through which you can book a party hosted by Rob and his family. How can you say no to that after reading a line like: “there has never been a player in any sport that exemplifies excellence on the field of play in addition to the field of party rock?”
3. Smart: Toby Gerhart
He might not be in the NFL right now, but Gerhart is still only 30 years old and eligible to play in the league despite a lack of interest from teams right now. Unfortunately for him his intelligence did not translate into spectacular or consistent play. He was in the NFL for five years on the Vikings and the Jaguars. As a running back, he was backing up Adrian Peterson, Denard Robinson and T.J. Yeldon. The first is a future Hall of Famer, but the other two? Not so much. He probably misses his college years at Stanford, when he was a Heisman trophy runner-up. More notably, he was a member of Pac-10’s All-Academic Team. Another great student athlete who was a little better at the student part.
2. Smart: Andrew Luck
If Andrew Luck were not injured this year, and if the Colts offensive line could actually protect the pocket, we would surely be seeing another stellar season from the Colts QB. As good as he is on the field, Luck has confessed to being a bit of a nerd. While at Stanford, Luck earned a degree in architectural engineering, and has confessed to still enjoying reading from time to time about the principles of concrete and design. He was even given an award after graduating for his exceptional leadership on the field along with his exemplary academic achievements. We’re sure his parents are very proud, and at least he has a backup plan if his injuries worsen.
1. Not So Bright: Tom Brady
Before you get all angry, hear me out first. On the field Tom Brady is a legend, one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. His achievements speak for themselves. However, listen to one of his interviews: his vocabulary is very limited, while his answers to complicated questions are filled with silence rather than meaningful words. And then it’s his recent book. In it he claims that water prevents sunburns. He also differentiates between six types of water (!) and underlines the differences between them. All in the name of marketing. You have to admit, believing in this stuff is pretty, well, quirky. On the flipside his Wonderlick score was 31, so he might be both, dumb and smart. That’s probably why Brady is so exceptional.
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