The 10 Smartest Athletes Playing Right Now

  • 10. Andrew Luck

    Following the Colts’ disastrous 2011 season in which they won just two games and finished tied for the worst record in the league, the team selected Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft. From laughing stock to elite, the young quarterback transformed Indianapolis into perennial title contenders almost immediately.

    From his rookie year, he was already orchestrating the hurry-up attack, a strategy some QBs do not begin until later in their careers. In his second season in the NFL, he placed in the top 10 in QBR at 62 and currently leads all quarterbacks in his draft class – which includes Colin KaepernickRussell WilsonRobert Griffin IIINick Foles, and others – with a QBR of 64.3. He isn’t just winning games for the Colts, but rather dissecting defenses in such a way that consistently make him a threat on the field.

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  • 9. Tim Duncan

    You don’t earn the nickname “The Big Fundamental” without harnessing skills in such a basic but important way that there is criticism for being “too boring.” In his 18th season in the league, Duncan still, just as he was as a 21-year-old rookie, is all about the game. He doesn’t provide distractions off the floor. You will see his passion – but you will never see him berating teammates or looking angry at anyone other than himself.

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  • 8. Philip Rivers

    Rivers isn’t just really good at thinking one-step ahead, he enjoys it. The 11th-year quarterback is thriving in the new San Diego Chargers’ uptempo offense under Mike McCoy, who says, “He’s dropping back, talking to the backs as he’s moving, telling them who to block, calling out code names for blitzes. He just sees it faster than anybody else.”

    After playing in one of the tighter offenses in the league that did not allow for much creativity for many seasons, the five-time Pro Bowler is just doing just fine – even better – now that he can open up his mind.

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  • 7. Rajon Rondo

    The new floor general for the Dallas Mavericks, Rajon Rondo enjoys one of the league’s best pair of eyes and seems to always make the correct pass. Despite his troubles shooting the basketball, the 29-year-old is leading the league in assists for the third time in the last four years.

    Rondo is also a student of the game just as much as he is an All-Star player. While still a member of the Boston Celtics, head coach Brad Stevens speculated that he watches more film than most other players, ensuring the film is sent to both his iPhone and iPad.

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  • 6. Novak Djokovic

    Novak Djokovic didn’t rise to tennis greatness with skill alone. His “tennis intelligence” began at a young age, when he would watch legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in an effort to emulate their games.

    Tennis matches are often grueling to endure, but his knack for finding his opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them play into his high IQ and have made him the world’s No. 1 player.

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  • 5. Albert Pujols

    After one massive contract signing and a couple of disappointing seasons, it seemed as though everyone had either forgotten about Albert Pujols or wrote him off as an aging, overpaid, and washed-up slugger.

    But last season, we witnessed the resurgence of the two-time World Series champion, as he hit a respectable .278 while smashing 28 home runs and driving in 105 RBI. It is a combination of his patience and ability to know how and if the pitcher will attack him at the plate that make Pujols so special.

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  • 4. Aaron Rodgers

    Considered by many to be the league’s best player, Aaron Rodgers’ arsenal goes beyond his strong arm and ability to extend plays with his legs. He brings smarts to the quarterback position, thinking of every possible move the defense will make and every necessary option his offense has (watch the video above). Ranking near the top in virtually every quarterback statistic, the 31-year-old’s IQ has propelled him to elite status.

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  • 3. LeBron James

    LeBron James possesses uncanny skills on the court and is bigger, stronger, and faster than most of his opponents – but the megastar’s memory may be the most special part of his game. He remembers exact plays from years past, where players were on the court, what they did, and how they did it.

    In an article from ESPN last season titled, “LeBron’s Mighty Mind,” there are several anecdotes that detail just how vivid his memory is and how it helps his game. And while his mind is impressive, the voice he carries both on the court and in the locker room also helps make him one of the best – and smartest – players today.

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  • 2. Peyton Manning

    This man needs no introduction. Peyton Manning, one of the greatest players to ever play in the National Football League, also happens to have one of the highest on-field IQs. The way in which he is able to read defenses and make adjustments on the field just seconds before hiking the ball is second to none.

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  • 1. Chris Paul

    Chris Paul is the point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, but is commonly referred to as the “Point God” of the basketball world. Without being the best scorer, the most athletic or the strongest, Paul has consistently been the league’s best all-around point guard. He seems to always make the right pass, takes the correct shot, and control the game with ease – which is rare to find with other players in such a high-paced environment.

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  • Andrew Luck
  • LeBron James
  • Peyton Manning
  • Chris Paul

There are a myriad of crucial factors to be able to achieve success in sports. You need skill. You need dedication. You even need some luck. But above all else, whether starting for the league’s best team or warming the bench for a struggling squad, you have to have some brains. You need intelligence – not the type of intelligence found in the classroom – but the intangible kind.

It is no surprise that great players do become, well, great. Of course, they are talented with God-given abilities. Yeah, sure, they are hard workers who “never take days off.” But it is their ability to see what others can’t, lead like others don’t, and do what others won’t that separate the great ones, the smart ones, from everyone else.

Success isn’t easy, either. Even the athletes with the highest IQs fail, but they will certainly fail less than everyone else. That is why you will notice that everyone on this list has either won a championship or has seen some sort of playoff success but ended up falling short due to different variables.

While it was tough to include all that deserve to make it, these 10 athletes possess the intelligence on the field and court that put them in another echelon of greatness. They can all be relied upon to find the open man in the end zone, jam the game-tying dunk, and hit the winner past their opponent. Here Are The 10 Smartest Athletes Playing Right Now.

Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewHochberg

image via Victor Decolongon/Getty Images