Ian Book is many impressive things.
Notre Dame’s all-time winningest quarterback. A two-time College Football Playoff starter. A team captain. Athletic for his position. A story of overachieving.
And now, he’s also a pro.
The New Orleans Saints selected Book in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft Saturday, using the No. 133 overall pick. He’s the sixth Notre Dame player drafted this year and 24th Irish quarterback selected since the draft began in 1936. Per Spotrac’s rookie wage scale, his four-year contract will be worth $4.153 million.
“I thought there were several teams that were targeting Ian Book here early on day three,” NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah said on the broadcast. “When I watched him, I saw some similarities to a guy like [Baltimore Ravens quarterback] Trace McSorley, who I like Trace McSorley, but you talk to other people and they’re like, ‘This guy might be [long-time NFL quarterback and two-time All-Pro] Rich Gannon.’
“That’s who they think of. He’s somebody as you go through the process and the interviews, the teams have been blown away by Ian Book, not only with his football intelligence, but just the kind of toughness and presence he has when they visited with him.
“When you watch him as a player, he got better throughout his career. I thought he did a great job of being able to create in the chaos. He’s accurate when he’s on the move, going to the left and to the right. And more than anything else he’s a crazy competitor, and that’s a trait I’m sure that [Saints head coach] Sean Payton and all the other teams that were keeping an eye on him really, really appreciate.”
NFL Network’s Charles Davis also noted that Book rates highly in the ‘quarterback formula’ made popular by Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells that places an emphasis on production by meeting certain statistical benchmarks, college starts (at least 30) and wins (at least 23).
“Ian Book fits all of that,” Davis said. “One thing we all have to keep in mind with early entry and all those other things, we’re not going to get this quarterback formula across the board like we used to … Ian Book actually fits it.”
ESPN counterpart Todd McShay also liked what he saw out of Book during his career in the blue and gold.
“I like this guy,” he said. “He’s a perfect fit in the fourth round to bring in as a backup. I love the way he plays the game. I love being on the sideline as an analyst and watching the energy he brings — getting his guys going and in and out of the huddle, and just the way he plays.
“He’s undersized and doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he has good timing as a passer. He’s at his best when the play breaks down and loves taking off and running. He has a great sense inside the pocket of where the rush is coming from and how to elude it, and throws well on the move.
“… He’ll continue to develop. Tommy Rees, the offensive coordinator, swears by this guy — he swears by Ian Book. He says he’s never been around anyone who studies harder, loves the game more and is a better leader than Ian Book has been the last three years as the starter at Notre Dame.”
The player who arrived with low public expectations became a three-year starter and key figure in one of Notre Dame’s best stretches in program history. His journey to Notre Dame and to the NFL began in El Dorado Hills, Calif.
Book’s recruitment picked up in 2014 during his junior year as the starting quarterback for Oak Ridge High School in suburban Sacramento. In April 2015, he committed to Washington State. The Cougars were the only Power Five offer at the time for the three-star recruit.
Notre Dame entered the picture that summer. New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford had offered Book in his prior role at Boise State in 2014 and pitched Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on him. Kelly agreed that yes, he was good enough and should get an offer. Notre Dame gave him one when he came for an August unofficial visit. He flipped his commitment a week later.
At Notre Dame, Book threw for 8,948 yards, 72 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. He also added 1,517 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns – both second in school history among quarterbacks. He was 30-5 as a starter.
Book’s chance came in September 2018, when he replaced Brandon Wimbush. He started one game in place of Wimbush in 2017 and came off the bench to lead a Citrus Bowl comeback later that year, but began 2018 as the backup. After Notre Dame trudged through sluggish offensive games against Ball State and Vanderbilt, Book trotted out as the starter the following week at Wake Forest.
In a 56-27 Irish win, Book threw for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for three more.
“We weren’t winning at a level that was going to allow us to continue to win,” Kelly said after the win over Wake Forest. “We were putting too much stress on other parts of the operation, particularly the defense. We played 97 snaps against Ball State. It was going to break. It needed to get fixed now.”
Save for a one-game injury absence later that year, he never gave up the job again. Notre Dame won all eight of Book’s 2018 starts and reached the College Football Playoff.
Book started all 13 games in 2019, throwing for 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns. He returned for a fifth year and led the Irish to a 10-2 record, a November win over then-No. 1 Clemson and second CFP appearance.
A presumed fringe draft pick heading into the 2020 season, Book left Notre Dame as a projected Day 3 selection. By the start of the draft, he had even appeared in the top 200 of some prospect rankings.
“The guy’s a winner and we’re going to miss him,” Kelly said in January after the CFP loss to Alabama. “He just wins football games. And there is no other story, just a winner.”
The player with the recruiting profile unlike others in Notre Dame’s quarterback room has been asked a few times in his career why he took on the challenge he did. Why he came to a place where he’d theoretically face longer odds to start. What he expected to do at Notre Dame.
The answer never differed.
“I came here to be the starter,” Book said before that Wake Forest win.
Book will start his pro career on a team that has Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston competing for the starting job to replace Hall of Famer Drew Brees, the new Notre Dame game analyst on NBC.
“This quarterback room gets completely remade from last year,” Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network. “There’s going to be a camp battle for the New Orleans Saints — it’s going to Jameis Winston versus Taysom Hill, but Ian Book’s development is going to go a long way in telling us who is actually active on game day.
“The plan right now is to have Taysom Hill not do as much of his special teams kind of stuff to focus on quarterback, but if [Book’s] good enough as a backup at the time the season starts, maybe he is active also and they have three quarterbacks active. His development will be key here.”
“Ian Book’s not coming there to just hold a clipboard,” NFL Network’s Peter Schrager added. “You drafted him in the fourth round, he’s going to have a place on this team, too. I’m fascinated to see how this all plays out in the post-Brees era.”
“One of the other interesting things is if this were a movie, he could be Drew Brees’ stunt double; they have the exact same body,” Jeremiah said. “They’re almost identical.”
ESPN’s Louis Riddick also saw a fit between Book, the ninth quarterback taken in this year’s draft, and New Orleans.
“In the regular-season, double-overtime game against Clemson, he came back and consistently made plays, whether it be scramble plays, moving defenders with his eyes, throwing the ball off a platform,” Riddick explained. “One of the things he does best is throws the timing routes over the middle as well as anyone. What is New Orleans’ offense? It’s a timing offense, drop back and get the ball out of your hands — he can do that kind of stuff.
“They don’t need him to launch 30, 40, 50-yarders all the time. They cut people up with Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater and never threw the ball further than 10 yards down the field. They don’t need that in that offense. If you’re Sean Payton, you’ll say ‘That’s fine, I’ll take it.’ I think it’s a good pick and a perfect place for him to go.”
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