Intelligence and the game of football go hand in hand. The sport requires countless hours of preparation for even just one 60-minute battle, yet many watching from afar believe otherwise, and that the game of football resembles a brawl more so than a chess match.
When people see the game, they think we’re meatheads; they think of the way jocks acted in high school. But we spend more time studying than we do on the field,” said Jets quarterback and Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick via The New Yorker.
Fully understanding a playbook, committing hours to watching game film, and orchestrating an impregnable game plan are essential to success in the NFL. Players will watch game tape and look for tells or tendencies from the opposing player they’re slated to face in the upcoming week’s key individual matchup. They may look for the style of a receiver’s route running and the way he comes out of his breaks, or the potentially differing stances of an offensive lineman in run and pass plays. Players who understand the game better, and are well prepared for each week’s contest, read and react at a quicker rate, and are able to play faster in a sport notorious for its speed.
In-game adjustments are just as crucial to the final outcome as the preparation building up to it. With Brady and Belichick at the helm, two of the game’s masterminds, the Patriots have won 74 straight home games when leading at the half. Belichick unfailingly determines what worked and what needs work in order to help the Patriots thrive in the second half. He outsmarted and infuriated Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh in the divisional round of this year’s playoffs with a trick play that stretched the limits of the rulebook—at least Harbaugh believed it did. New England ran a formation with just four offensive linemen, in which running back Shane Vereen was an ineligible receiver. However, the members of the Ravens’ defense were as confused as their head coach and bit on the pump fake Brady sent Vereen’s way despite his ineligibility. As a result, backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was able to run freely down the seam, where “Tom terrific” found him. Harbaugh jumped onto the field to argue the play, but instead drew and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his childish outburst. The play rehabilitated New England’s playoff fortunes as Brady subsequently connected with Gronk in the end zone.
Aside from game film studies, the draft combine Wonderlic test largely determines player intelligence. The exam evaluates players’ aptitude for learning and problem solving in a range of occupations—a similar test exists in most workplaces. The test score doesn’t necessarily correlate with on the field success as is evident with the number one player on this list. Before we get to him, let’s take a look at the first 14 smartest players in the NFL.
14 Sam Acho – Chicago Bears
13 Toby Gerhart – Jacksonville Jaguars
12 Blaine Gabbert – San Francisco 49ers
11 Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
10 Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks
Sherman sent shockwaves around the world following his brash post-game interview with Erin Andrews following the 2013-14 NFC Championship. And while many now view him as pompous, Sherman has hinted that his antics are calculated, with the objective of growing the market in Seattle and around the league.
9 Bryan Walters – Jacksonville Jaguars
The only way Sherman’s former teammate Walters ranks ahead of him in a competitive list is one consisting of achievement away from the football field. Walters went undrafted in 2010 after graduating from Ivy League School, Cornell.
8 T-9. Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs & Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers
7 Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
6 Charles Woodson – Oakland Raiders
5 Benjamin Watson – New Orleans Saints
4 Desmond Bryant – Cleveland Browns
3 Tom Brady – New England Patriots
2 Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
1 Ryan Fitzpatrick – New York Jets
That thumping noise you just heard might have been the casual NFL fan’s jaw hitting the ground after seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick take the top spot on this list. Fitz is best known as the hard-nosed gunslinger who always seems to fire it away in the hands of opposing defenders. The only other way you’d recognize the Harvard graduate is by his signature beard. He’s been a middling starting quarterback, one that teams usually sign to be a stopgap until their young quarterback waiting in the wings is ready to step in. He hasn’t turned any heads with his quarterback play, but Fitz does hold the highest Wonderlic grade of any quarterback in league history, with a score of 49. In his first career start in 2005 with the St. Louis Rams, Fitzpatrick became the fifth quarterback in league history to throw for 300-plus yards in his debut.
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