During the 2014 season, ESPN reporters conducted an extensive survey of 73 active NFL quarterbacks and another 55 who are in retirement. That group of 128 quarterbacks, representing players who entered the league over a time period of more than 50 years, answered 15 questions ranging from their high school schemes to their family backgrounds to their ethnicity.
Among the active quarterbacks who participated: Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson. Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bob Griese and Steve Young were among the retired participants.
What did they have to say? Below, you'll find a closer look at the five most revealing trends this survey uncovered.
Throwing the ball
When did you first throw a football? It might depend on when you grew up. Of the retired quarterbacks we surveyed, 40 percent remembered making their first throw by their sixth birthday. That figure doubled for current quarterbacks.
Why? (Other than less foggy memories for younger respondents?)
As football has grown in popularity, so has quarterback as a glamour position. It's much more likely for today's kids to emulate Aaron Rodgers than Aaron Williams. (Or, perhaps, for their parents to push them in that direction.) No one wants to be Tommy Kelly. They want to be Tom Brady. Most kids would prefer Andrew Luck's No. 12 over Andrew Whitworth's No. 77.
Do you want to be the guy who threw the winning touchdown pass? Or the guy whose block gave the quarterback enough time to throw the winning touchdown pass? Enough said.
The spread offense can be traced back more than 50 years at the high school level, when a young coach named Mouse Davis put one running back in the backfield and spread out as many as four receivers across the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks in our survey first experienced the spread in the late 1960s and arrived in the NFL in the 1970s. Now, nearly half of our quarterbacks whose careers started in 2010 or later played for high school teams that ran the spread.
As a result, the body type and skill set for quarterbacks have become less defined. (Our survey found that quarterbacks who started their NFL careers in the past three decades were 63 percent more likely to be asked to play a different position compared to those who entered the league between 1960 and 1980.) Described sometimes as the "run-and-shoot" in the 1980s and '90s, the new scheme at first stumped NFL scouts who tried projecting spread quarterbacks into their pro-style schemes.
More recently, however, teams have adopted principles of the spread -- the pistol formation and read/option, for example -- to capitalize on skills their quarterbacks already had developed. Although not a perfect answer, one way to quantify the transition is through the increase in shotgun/pistol formations, once used in the NFL solely on passing downs. As recently as 2006, 69.4 percent of NFL dropbacks began with the quarterback under center. By 2014, that number dropped to 21.9 percent.
Almost four out of every five dropbacks now begin with the quarterback in the shotgun or pistol. That progression has led to a "critical time" in football history, according to nationally known quarterbacks tutor Steve Clarkson.
"It's pretty clear that quarterbacks in a spread at the NFL level take a beating," Clarkson said. "You can't last playing quarterback when you're exposed that way. ... Something has to give. Either you find a way to train them to play in the pocket, or the position is going to become situational in 10 years, because they're going to run out of them."
Transition toward camps
Independent or college-affiliated camps are nearly ubiquitous on the football landscape, both as big business and a critical part of the recruiting process. To no surprise, the percentage of current NFL quarterbacks who attended a camp prior to college is nearly tripled that of the retired quarterbacks surveyed.
Nearly 62 percent of current quarterbacks -- 45 of 73 -- acknowledged attendance.
"In five years, I bet that will be over 80 percent," said Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports, which runs the nationally known Elite 11 Quarterback Competition. "That's the cycle of how it works now."
Stumpf estimates that those in the elite tier of high school quarterbacks, perhaps 15-20 percent of the total class, accept early scholarship offers after their sophomore seasons. Their camp attendance is less crucial, but the rest of the class typically attends up to 10 camps -- ostensibly for instruction but also to get in front of college recruiters.
"These college coaches might not have time to get to every school," Stumpf said. "So it's really rare now for a guy to get a Division I scholarship and not be part of the camp process. Frankly, some of them are not so much instructional as they are a place for schools to find their next quarterback. Guys will be told, we have 10 quarterbacks here and one of them is getting a scholarship."
Big families/two-parent households
Family demographics are a tricky and touchy subject, but the results of our survey meshed with current mainstream research. Almost all of our quarterbacks said they came from two-parent households and more of our quarterbacks reported being the oldest child compared to the middle or youngest. (About two-thirds said their families included three or more children.)
Psychologists have been studying birth order for nearly 150 years, beginning with Galton's 1874 research on the dominance of first-born sons/only sons in the science community. There is now widespread research that suggests first-born children are more likely to be ambitious and success-oriented. According to research published in Psychology Today: "In the workplace, first born and only children have strength in being known as straight thinkers, organized, and goal setters." Those attributes coincide with typical quarterback expectations.
Meanwhile, according to the Child Trends Databank, "the number and type of parents (e.g. biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are strongly linked to a child's well-being." Our survey did not seek details beyond the number of parents in the household, but the overwhelming presence of two parents (nearly 90 percent) in quarterback homes outpaced the overall nation average.
According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 63 percent of American families with children under 18 included married couples.
Transition to upper/upper-middle class
Not every quarterback surveyed was willing to classify his family's economic status growing up. There is also a degree of subjectivity for adults attempting to reconstruct a private financial situation that existed when they were children.
Given those caveats, what can we say about replies that suggest a trend toward more quarterbacks matriculating from upper and upper-middle class families? Do rich kids have an advantage?
On the broadest scale, scholars have argued for decades that established economic status in America is the strongest indicator for future economic success. Cal research professor G. William Domhoff's 1967 book "Who Rules America?" concluded: "The short answer, from 1776 to the present, is: Those who have the money."
Does this translate to the football status system, where the quarterback is the unquestioned centerpiece and, on average, the highest-paid position in the game? A cursory look at the current crop of NFL quarterbacks reveals some correlation, but not necessarily causation. Peyton and Eli Manning and Andrew Luck are the sons of former well-paid NFL quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford is the son of a successful Dallas-area businessman. Russell Wilson's father was an attorney in Richmond, Virginia.
This much is fact: A well-heeled family can burnish a young quarterback's development in a way that one of less means cannot. Steve Clarkson's famous "DreamMaker" tutoring services can cost parents -- or family benefactors -- tens of thousands of dollars, and reportedly as much as $400 an hour, in the years leading up to a college scholarship. Clarkson's success stories are notable: Ben Roethlisberger, EJ Manuel, Jake Locker, Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater are among the current NFL quarterbacks he has tutored.
Survey was compiled by NFL Nation reporters Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan, Dan Graziano, John Keim, Rob Demovsky, Michael Rothstein, Ben Goessling, Michael C. Wright, David Newton, Mike Triplett, Vaughn McClure, Patrick Yasinskas, Terry Blount, Josh Weinfuss, Paul Gutierrez, Nick Wagoner, Mike Reiss, Mike Rodak, James Walker, Rich Cimini, Scott Brown, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley, Patrick McManamon, Jeremy Fowler, Mike Wells, Tania Ganguli, Mike DiRocco, Paul Kuharsky, Jeff Legwold, Adam Teicher, Eric Williams and Bill Williamson, and ESPN The Magazine reporters Morty Ain, Anna Katherine Clemmons and Eddie Matz.