FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – With a Harvard degree and the highest Wonderlic score ever for a quarterback at the NFL Combine, Ryan Fitzpatrick is known as the smartest player in the NFL. This brainiac, however, wants to be known not just for that Ivy League education or his score on the standardized test.
He wants to be known as a Super Bowl winner, something he hasn't done in an NFL career that, as he puts it, has made him now known less for his smarts and “more as a journeyman.”
Meet Fitzpatrick, the quiet and reserved quarterback of the New York Jets. He's smart, something that is well established around the league and is forever linked with his name. He's also a veteran who is entering his tenth NFL season for what will is now his sixth team. His numbers aren't spectacular but he is relatively solid and he can manage a game. For that reason he might just win a quarterback competition here in New York, one where his main competition is the underwhelming but full of potential Geno Smith.
Despite what he's done in a career that spans 89 starts and where he has thrown for just under 20,000 yards, he's still known for what transpired at the NFL Combine during what is known as a group intelligence test. He is still the 'Wonderlic Quarterback' and the 'Harvard Guy.'
“There's worse things to be known by or called. The further I'm removed from the combine, Harvard and the rookie year and all that, it still comes up in stories and stuff - it's shifted a little bout that stuff,” Fitzpatrick told Metro. “It's not as much about all that but I don't get tired of it, the Harvard background and everything but I try to give them something else to talk about.”
Now, he is hoping that the headlines will be about him and the Jets quarterback competition, not about his prestigious diploma.
The tendency is to label Fitzpatrick as a game-manager, someone who can sustain drives and play smart ball but who isn't a difference maker. Perhaps it is true that he isn't one of the elites in the game but there are reasons to believe that while he isn't a difference maker, perhaps he can nonetheless make a difference for the Jets given just how bad their quarterback situation has been over the past few years.
Since 2012, Fitzpatrick's completion percentage has gone up each year. He hasn't had a season where he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns since 2008, something the Jets haven't been able to say about a starting quarterback since 2011. There's reason to believe that if he can be smart in the pocket during preseason, he can win this job and impress first-year head coach Todd Bowles, who isn't necessarily married to the incumbent starter Smith. Bowles inherited Smith and isn't tied down to him and as of last week, the Jets head coach said the position is open for competition.
“Todd's deal is he wants to win, he wants to put the best players out there,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whether that is Geno, whether that is me or whoever it is, he wants to win.”
Before he came to the Jets, Fitzpatrick reached out to the likes of Brad Smith and Leon Washington, themselves former Jets who Fitzpatrick had played with at other stops. He also knew other players in the locker room so he claims a comfort level in this building and with the personnel. Fitzpatrick doesn't say much, in fact his teammates say that he's pretty quiet and laid back - “he'll sometimes only speak up to razz you or something” one offensive player said – and that he's happy just fitting in.
There is, of course, the matter of his brains though. Even as he gets more into his NFL career and further away from that 48 score on the Wonderlic, he still is known as the Harvard quarterback around the NFL and to many fans. Ask a fan what comes to mind when they think of him, and being “smart” is the first thing off most of their lips.
But while the Wonderlic may be his calling card, it doesn't mean that much to him. The test is administered at the NFL Combine and is used in a variety of professional outlets away from that setting. It is a 12-minute test with 50 questions. For a quarterback, you want to show enough intelligence that teams will rest assured of your ability to pick up the playbook.
Ironically, former Jets quarterback Greg McElroy has the second highest Wonderlic score among any quarterback in combine history. He's only behind Fitzpatrick.
“I don't think it correlates much to be honest. Being a quarterback is about making quick decisions,” Fitzpatrick said. “And so it doesn't matter what your intelligence is on a written test or anything. It's more about making quick decisions.”