Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 25 Smartest Players in NFL History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IDecember 4, 2010

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 25 Smartest Players in NFL History

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Ryan Fitzpatrick was known as "That Harvard Quarterback" until about two months ago when he started collecting touchdown passes in bunches.

    Since taking over as the starter for the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, three of his last seven games have included touchdown-throwing hat tricks.

    That got us thinking about other brainiac football players in NFL history, so we put together a list of the top 25.

    But first we had to clarify the word "smartest." Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Charles Woodson and a host of others are often praised for their "football IQ." That's not what were talking about.

    This list features players (no matter how great or how mediocre) who have tremendous off-the-field aptitude.

    Book smarts are part of it, but not everything, as you'll see in this players-only list.

    A brilliant artist or author counts just as much as a player who had a perfect score on the Wonderlic test.

    Enjoy this list, which will be included on the final exam.

No. 25: Dhani Jones

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Years: 2000-present

    Teams: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Cincinnati Bengals

    College: Michigan


    The bow ties make him look the part, but Jones is also a very intelligent man.

    He writes poetry, has discussed politics on ABC's Top Line podcasts and has his own show, Dhani Tackles The World, on the Travel Channel, which is almost as thought-provoking as former teammate Terrell Owens' show or current teammate Chad Johnson's show.

    And as a true Renaissance Man, he also hosts another show, the ultra-popular, Jeopardy-like Does It Smell Anymore?

No. 24: Alex Smith

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Years: 2005-present

    Teams: San Francisco 49ers

    College: Utah


    Although the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft has yet to live up to his lofty selection, Smith still has a terribly bright future ahead of him.

    With a 3.74 GPA, he earned his bachelor's degree in economics in just two years and was the 2004 CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year winner. As a junior quarterback at Utah, he started work on earning his Master's degree but opted to go to the NFL instead.

    How long until he goes back to Salt Lake City to finish it?

No. 23: Robert Smith

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Years: 1993-2000

    Teams: Minnesota Vikings

    College: Ohio State


    Smith was a Pro Bowler with the Vikings and the ground leader of the Vikings' great offenses of the late 1990s.

    And he had his best season in 2000, when he rushed for 1,521 yards, a club record. But, at age 28, he retired following the team's NFC Championship Game loss.

    Speculation was that he was retiring to enroll in medical school. That didn't happen but, according to a 2004 Associated Press article, he was a part owner of a software company that manages health care networks.

    He is known to be a fan of astronomy and orchestra and in 2004, he released his autobiography, The Rest of the Iceberg: An Insider's View on the World of Sport and Celebrity.

No. 22: Jason Garrett

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Years: 1989-90, 1993-2004

    Teams: New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins

    College: Princeton


    An Ivy League education is only part of the reason he makes this list.

    During his first game as interim head coach of Cowboys, former teammate and the man whom Garrett backed up for eight seasons in Dallas, Troy Aikman, said that Garrett was smart enough to be anything he wanted, including president of the United States.

    That's a ringing endorsement, and one verified by several officials around the league.

    We'll soon see if his resume is enough to earn a full-time job from Jerry Jones.

No. 21: Ross Tucker

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    Years: 2001-07

    Teams: Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots

    College: Princeton


    Tucker was a serviceable offensive lineman for several teams in the last decade, until a neck injury forced him out of the game.

    But because this former Princeton Tigers is a very talented journalist and writer, he remains a major part of the NFL.

    Tucker writes for Sports Illustrated and does a great job, but according to his SI.com profile, is also "the co-founder of a Go Big Recruiting.com, a company that uses advance video technology to allow student-athletes to submit game film to colleges online."

No. 20: Rosey Grier

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    Years: 1955-66

    Teams: New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams

    College: Penn State


    As a player, Grier was a part of two separate dynasties: the Frank Gifford-led Giants who played in five NFL Championship Games in seven years and the "Fearsome Foursome" of the LA Rams that featured Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy.

    Another quintessential "Renaissance Man," Grier was active in local, state and national politics and was a body guard for Bobby Kennedy during his presidential campaign in 1968.

    Later he served on the board of trustees for a major education foundation and is an accomplished author, artist, musician, actor, motivational speaker and ordained minister.

No. 19: Matt Birk

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    Larry French/Getty Images

    Years: 1998-present

    Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens

    College: Harvard


    With Robert Smith beside him, there must have been some interesting conversations in the 2000 Minnesota Vikings huddles.

    Birk went to Harvard, then was a sixth-round draft pick in 1998. In his third season, he became a starter and promptly earned a Pro Bowl spot, the first of six. 

    A few years later, in 2006, he publicly blasted the late Gene Upshaw for the job he was doing as NFLPA executive director:

    "Don't put this in the paper...no, wait, go ahead and put it in....Gene Upshaw is a piece of (expletive). Too many guys in the league just accept whatever Gene says. I don't know why no one has called this guy out."

    Probably the only player who could get away with that was a Havard educated economics major who was offered a job on Wall Street after leaving college.

    The Sporting News recently rated him sixth on their list of smartest athletes in pro sports today.

No. 18: Tim Green

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    George Rose/Getty Images

    Years: 1986-93

    Teams: Atlanta Falcons

    College: Syracuse


    So-called "book smarts" aren't the only type of intelligence. What about the people who actually write books? That takes mounds of intelligence.

    A Rhodes Scholarship finalist in 1987, Tim Green played seven years in the NFL, all the while working towards his law degree at Syracuse. (He is a practicing attorney in New York.)

    He retired in 1993, worked a while as a Fox Sports analyst, then began his career as an author. Since 1996, he has published 16 novels, including a New York Times bestseller.

    In 2007, he reportedly was asked by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to consider a run for New York state Senate; Green even compared Spitzer to his former Orangemen coach Dick MacPherson!

No. 17: Benjamin Watson

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Years: 2004-present

    Teams: New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns

    College: Georgia


    In 2004, Watson was a first-round draft pick of the defending world champion New England Patriots.

    As a rookie, Watson won his first Super Bowl and has caught 207 passes and 22 touchdowns.

    But it was what he did before joining the NFL that lands him on this list.

    After transferring from Duke to Georgia, he readied himself for the NFL. At the combine, he took the standard Wonderlic and scored an incredible 48. He is rumored to have a 172 IQ. 

    Considering his IQ and the fact that he was a finance major at UGA, he is probably investing his 2010 salary, $917,000, pretty well.

No. 16: Jeff Hostetler

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    George Rose/Getty Images

    Years: 1984-97

    Teams: New York Giants, Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins

    College: West Virginia


    Because of playing time and unfulfilled promises from Joe Paterno, Hostetler and his 3.92 GPA transferred out of Penn State in 1980 and enrolled in Morgantown. His grades didn't suffer from switching schools.

    Hostetler continued to cruise through his finance/economics major and was nominated by the faculty for a Rhodes Scholarship. He turned it down to pursue a career as a professional football player.

    He went on to lead the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXV and earned a Pro Bowl spot in 1994, and like Benjamin Watson, probably invested his millions with a keen eye.

No. 15: Oliver Luck

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    Years: 1983-85

    Teams: Houston Oilers

    College: West Virginia


    Like the man who replaced him as the starting quarterback at West Virginia, Jeff Hostetler, Luck was a brilliant mind.

    He was a two-time Academic All-American and was also nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship at WVU, where he graduated magna cum laude.

    The Houston Oilers selected him as the third quarterback taken in the 1982 draft, but his professional career wasn't very productive; he only started nine games and threw 21 interceptions and 13 touchdowns.

    After retiring in the mid-1980s, he became a lawyer and has served as a CEO for several sports organizations and is now the athletic director at his alma mater.

    His son, Andrew, the Stanford Cardinal quarterback, has big shoes to fill.

No. 14: Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Years: 2005-present

    Teams: St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills

    College: Harvard


    Because his son Andrew is a safe bet to render Ryan Fitzpatrick unemployed, we'll put Oliver Luck behind  Fitzpatrick.

    Well, that and because he is a Harvard alum who scored a 49 on the Wonderlic test.

    Around the time he was drafted, there were reports that he finished the exam in nine minutes. Even though he admits to skipping one whole question, that's pretty remarkable.

No. 13: Calvin Hill

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    Years: 1969-74, 1976-81

    Teams: Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns

    College: Yale


    Decades before his son, Grant, was a star at Duke and then in the NBA, Calvin Hill was a four-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.

    As a Baltimore youth, he earned a scholarship to Yale, where he was a fraternity brother to President George W. Bush. Later, he attended SMU to study theology.

    After his NFL career, he was a vice president of the Baltimore Orioles and is a consultant for Fleet Financial Services.

    He has also served as a consultant to many political figures including Senator John Glenn and the director of the Peace Corps.

    Probably a pretty high IQ there.

No. 12: Nnamdi Asomugha

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Years: 2003-present

    Teams: Oakland Raiders

    College: Cal


    Despite opting to re-sign with the Raiders, Asomugha is very smart.

    He is involved in many charities, including several in Africa, and is also the founder of a program in California that helps high school students visit colleges across the nation.

    For his philanthropy, Asomugha was invited in 2009 to participate in former President Bill Clinton's "Clinton Global Initiative" project, where he discussed human rights issues with Clinton and others in front of hundreds of college students.

    Both of Asomugh's parents earned graduate degrees (his late father was a petroleum engineer and his mother is a pharmacist), his sister is a pediactric fellow at Yale and his brother went to Stanford and is earning an MBA from Columbia.

    Nnamdi, who majored in business administration at Cal, will have to get by with his recent three-year, $43.5 million contract.

No. 11: Ron Mix

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    Years: 1960-69, 1971

    Teams: LA/San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders

    College: USC


    Mix was arguably the greatest lineman in the history of the American Football League. He was an AFL All-Star each of his first nine seasons in the league and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

    But while he was a Charger guard, he earned his law degree at night school and when he retired began to practice.

    For decades, he has been a litigator with a sparkling record.

No. 10: Archie Roberts

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    Years: 1967

    Teams: Miami Dolphins

    College: Colgate


    Roberts played just one professional game, a relief appearance at quarterback for the 1967 Miami Dolphins in which he was 5-for-10 with 11 yards and an interception during a 41-0 blowout. 

    But the former Colgate Lion snapped several of Hall of Famer Sid Luckman's school records.

    In 1965, the New York Jets took Roberts in the sixth round, as a backup plan in case their first-round pick, a quarterback from Alabama named Joe Namath, didn't pan out.

    Roberts turned down their offer and chose to sign with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, who not only allowed him to attend to med school at Case Western Reserve University, but paid for him to go. After spending 1967 with the Dolphins, he retired.

    He became a cardiovascular surgeon, did thousands of open-heart procedures and is currently the adviser of the Living Heart Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to prevent sudden cardiac death in high school and college athletes.

No. 9: Roger Staubach

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    Years: 1969-79

    Teams: Dallas Cowboys

    College: Navy


    After winning the 1964 Heisman Trophy, Staubach graduated from the Naval Academy with a degree in engineering then served a tour in Vietnam as a supply officer.

    You know the rest about his career in the NFL—Super Bowl VI MVP, two Super Bowl wins in four appearances, six-time Pro Bowler, Hall of Fame quarterback.

    But Captain Comeback was a great businessman, even while he was still an active player. He was the CEO of his own real estate company for decades and in 2008 sold the business for $613 million.

No. 8: Steve Young

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Years: 1985-99

    Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers

    College: BYU


    Young earned his undergraduate degree from his great-great-great grandfather's college, spent a few years in limbo—in the USFL, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and as Joe Montana's backup in San Francisco—before becoming a Hall of Famer.

    And although concussions forced him to retire, they didn't stop him from using his brains.

    Young spoke at the 2000 Republican National Convention, earned his law degree from his alma mater and later became a venture capitalist, on top of his duties as an analyst for ESPN.

No. 7: Pat McInally

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    Years: 1976-85

    Teams: Cincinnati Bengals

    College: Harvard


    McInally earned a Pro Bowl spot in 1981, the same year that the Bengals earned their first Super Bowl berth. 

    Despite having nine punts blocked in his 11-year career, he was a very reliable punter for the Bengals, twice leading the league in average yards per kick.

    At 6'6" and 210 pounds, McInally also played some wide receiver for Cincinnati, catching 57 passes for 808 yards and five touchdowns. And his best games all came against division rivals Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Houston. He also completed three of four attempts throwing the ball.

    But it was his Wonderlic score that remains his greatest legacy; he is reported to be the only player to ever record a perfect score of 50.

No. 6: Steve Largent

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Years: 1976-89

    Teams: Seattle Seahawks

    College: Tulsa


    When Largent retired, he held the NFL record for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. And after he stepped away, he didn't wait around and watch Jerry Rice break all his records.

    In 1994, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Oklahoma's first district. He won three more terms and was the vice chairman of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, and a member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

    He later became the CEO of a wireless communications non-profit.

    The former Golden Hurricane who graduated from Tulsa with a degree in biology ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2002 but lost by less than 7,000 votes.

No. 5: Myron Rolle

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Years: 2010-present

    Teams: Tennessee Titans

    College: FSU


    After just two-and-half years at FSU, where he conducted research on metabolic characteristics of human mesenchymal stem cells, Rolle graduated and earned a Rhodes Scholarship (he famously missed the beginning of the team's 2008 game against Maryland to interview for the scholarship).

    He then spent a year studying at Oxford, earning a degree in medical anthropology. 

    Around the time of the 2010 draft, pundits questioned his love of the game because his ultimate career goal was to become a doctor. Still, given his tremendous athleticism, the Titans wisely selected him in the sixth round of last year's draft.

    Rolle is currently on the team's practice squad.

No. 4: Jack Kemp

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    Years: 1957, 1959-69

    Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, LA/San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills

    College: Occidental


    Kemp remains the only man to quarterback the Buffalo Bills to a league title, but his greatest legacy is probably another service he provided for the people of Western New York.

    After retiring, Kemp served nine terms in the United States House of Representatives, then was a Republican candidate in the 1988 presidental primaries. He bowed out in favor of George H.W. Bush, who soon named him to his cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

    Often seen as a potential running mate, Kemp was ultimately tabbed as Bob Dole's vice presidential candidate in 1996 when the Republicans tried to unseat Bill Clinton.

No. 3: Pat Haden

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    Years: 1976-81

    Teams: Los Angeles Rams

    College: USC


    A two-time national championship winning quarterback, Haden earned a Rhodes Scholarship in addition to being a Phi Beta Kappa and graduating magna cum laude. While attending Oxford in 1975 he spent one season playing in the World Football League, then returned to the States to play in a familiar Southern California location with the Rams.

    During his first three seasons, he posted a 27-7 record as a starter and was named to the 1977 Pro Bowl. In 1979, the Rams' first Super Bowl season, he was the starter until a broken finger sidelined him. From then, his playing career sort of bottomed out.

    After retiring, he earned his law degree from Loyola, became a broadcaster for Fox and NBC's Notre Dame coverage, and became an ultra-successful member of an investment firm in Los Angeles.

    This August, in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal, he was named the new athletic director at his alma mater.

No. 2: Alan Page

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    Years: 1967-81

    Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears

    College: Notre Dame


    First as a member of the Fighting Irish, then as the cornerstone of the Vikings' "Purple People Eaters," Page was feared by almost all of his opponents.

    When he retired, he continued to be a scary, authoritative figure, at least to defendants and attorneys in his courtroom.

    During his Hall of Fame career in which he appeared in four Super Bowls, Page studied law at nearby University of Minnesota and earned his degree in 1978.

    A few years later, Page was named Minnesota's assistant attorney general and in 1992 was elected to the state's Supreme Court, where he continues to serve at the age of 65. 

No. 1: Byron "Whizzer" White

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    Years: 1938, 1940-41

    Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Lions

    College: Colorado


    The fourth overall pick in the 1938 draft, White led the NFL in rushing as a rookie. That year, for the 2-9 Pirates, White carried the ball 152 times for 567 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He even had an incredible 79-yard touchdown run and an intereption that nearly led the team to a win over Philadelphia.

    White chose to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship but returned from Oxford in 1940 to again lead the NFL in yards and carries, this time for the Detroit Lions.

    But with America's involvement in World War II, White joined the Navy and became an intelligence officer, winning a pair of Bronze Stars.

    When he returned from the Pacific, he attended Yale Law School, graduating magna cum laude. A decade-and-a-half later, White was named to the U.S. Supreme Court by fellow Navy man John F. Kennedy.

    He spent 31 years on the bench, presiding over such important cases as Gideon vs. Wainwright, Roe vs. Wade, and Miranda vs. Arizona.

    White retired in 1993 and passed away in 2002, but was one of the most respected jurists of the 20th century and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.