In the term ‘student athlete,’ the emphasis tends to land on the former for most college players who end up making it to the NFL. A lot of the big state schools who churn out large numbers of draft picks are renowned for their athletics departments more than their academics, and spend a great deal of effort and money cultivating their athletics programs. The football coaching salaries alone give an indication of this, with a prime example being Alabama’s Nick Saban, who clears over $5 million a year, likely more than any professor at Alabama or elsewhere could ever dream of making. While athletes aren’t allowed to flunk out in college, many just skate by getting the minimum required GPA that still allows them to play – and their athletic prowess often leads them to focus primarily on improving themselves on the field rather than in the classroom.
While a player’s GPA and academic background really has no reflection on their draft order, there’s still something to be said for how the NFL factors in a player’s intelligence. Their use of the Wonderlic test proves this – and it’s no mistake that the top of this list is a player who is notorious for his near perfect score on the Wonderlic. Fun fact – Pat McInally, former Cincinnati Bengals punter and wide receiver, is the only player in NFL history to have received a perfect 50 out of 50 on the Wonderlic. Overall, coaches seem to want a certain balance – both scoring too high and too low can affect when a player is picked in the draft.
Wonderlic aside, college athletics are big in the United States and though they may not match the output of big ten state schools, even the Ivies send players to the NFL every now and then. They don’t attract a lot of players because of their policy to not offer athletic scholarships, and Ivy League NFLers are certainly a minority, but elite educational institutions have nonetheless successfully moved a couple players in their ranks into the NFL. All players who make it to the NFL have proven their skill on the field – including during the stressful and grueling final exam of the Scouting Combine. However, the following players have also proven their skill in the classroom. I will acknowledge that merely attending a school doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is a great intellectual and there’s a lot of controversy about student athletes being held to different standards. At any rate, the following players managed to survive at notoriously rigorous institutions, so let’s just go ahead and call them the NFL’s top 10 recent brainiacs.
10. Nate Lawrie
Tight end Nate Lawrie sharpened his mind at Yale University, where he graduated with a political science degree. He has the distinction of making the most receptions in a season by a Yale tight end, which he achieved in his senior year on the team.
His NFL career has been fairly rocky – he’s been a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, and San Francisco 49ers, to name a few. He also hasn’t always gotten a lot of field time, and on many of these teams, he’s been an offseason or practice squad member. However, Lawrie seems determined to succeed off the field as well. His LinkedIn resume alternates between managerial positions in various businesses and tight end positions on various teams. Sure, he might not be able to say he was a starting tight end for years, but he’s used his NFL status to help him in other parts of his life. In 2008, four years after graduating from Yale, he completed the NFL Business Management & Entrepreneurial Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s infamous Wharton School. He’s put the skills he gained at Wharton into action as director of business development and marketing at Connecticut Greenstar, as well as founder and president of Lawrie Leasing LLC.
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