Hines Ward, Ed Reed
Often times ratings come out for the "Best Wide Receiver in the NFL," or "Best Fantasy Player for 2011."
Not as often are lists that compile the leagues most intelligent players.
I've decided to take a look deep inside NFL rosters to find the players that are smart, and I don't mean book smart (sorry all you Wonderlic lovers).
Peyton Manning easily tops the quarterbacks list of all-time smartest at his position.
In an era where defensive schemes are more and more complicated and players are faster and stronger, Manning calls his own plays, makes adjustments and does so with incredible efficiency.
With an incredible ability to convert on third downs (44.6 percent), Manning proves that he is intelligent enough to make the right calls at the right time.
At Georgia, Hines Ward had to know every intricacy of the offense; he played quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and even returned punts.
Entering the NFL in 1998 as a third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward was full of offensive information, and his pedigree made the transition almost easy.
In 2008, Ward was voted the smartest offensive player (non-quarterback) in a coaches' poll. In 2011, I am crowning him the smartest offensive player (non-quarterback) again.
At 6'0", 205lbs with 4.58 speed, Ward doesn't embody a No. 1 receiver. That is, if you aren't the Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing for a team that was never known for throwing the ball, Ward has been able to amass 954 receptions in his career, which makes him third among active players and eighth all time.
You need to step back and think about how that is possible when he didn't start a game until his second season and then played until 2003 with subpar quarterbacks. What's even more interesting is that he caught over 100 balls only once in his career (112 in 2003).
How could a guy with less than average speed and size be so good? Intelligence. Being at the right place at the right time helped Ward carve a path and a legacy that won't be forgotten.
An intelligent player must use his brain rather than physical talents to read defenders positioning, know when a defense is blitzing and be able to help in blocking (Ward is THE GREATEST blocking WR in the history of the NFL) and know when to go over the middle to take one for the team.
Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis
Needless to say, this man knows the offense just as well as Peyton himself.
Andre Johnson, Houston
Middle linebackers are often the quarterbacks of a defense.
They usually take care of the play-calling responsibilities and are required to know the assignments of teammates. Add in exceptional instincts, ability and countless hours of film study and there's the rare mix you get with Ray Lewis.
While I am a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I am also an objective sports writer.
Ray Lewis is what an NFL linebacker and leader should be. Although it is up for debate on his off-field antics, the man knows how to fire up teammates and bring it on Sunday. The way he studies film and totally engulfs himself in the sport makes all others pale in comparison.
He has averaged 135 tackles per season while accumulating 30 INT's and nearly 40 sacks. This is a man that knows where to be on the field, when to make the plays and how to get his teammates to play better.
Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh
Rhonde Barber, Tampa Bay
While there may be no clear cut way of defining who is the smartest player in the NFL, one can sure make an attempt at starting a list and make some observations.
An intelligent player not only makes plays at the right time but also makes his team and his organization a better one.