Ian Book’s immediate reaction to being drafted hit on most of the common themes.
Elation. Excitement. Instant motivation. Relief.
Total surprise about his destination, though, wasn’t included. Book, Notre Dame’s three-year starting quarterback, figured there was a chance a New Orleans area code would light up his phone screen during this year’s NFL Draft. A higher chance than some others, at least.
Sure enough, the Saints made him a fourth-round pick and the 133rd player taken in the draft — the result of a few months’ homework, deep dives and conversations with Book. They didn’t keep their interest a secret from him. In the immediate moments after he got the call at his Northern California home, someone in the room exclaimed it was a “perfect spot,” as if the pick confirmed an ideal destination rather than stunned them with one.
“I was able to have some great meetings with the Saints,” Book said on a conference call with New Orleans media. “I definitely felt like it was a good spot for me, somewhere I could go in and compete. We had good meetings over Zoom. I was hoping for any team, but this is an unbelievable spot. I think I have a great opportunity.”
Book became the Saints’ first quarterback draft pick since they took Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson in 2015. That’s excluding the 2020 seventh-round selection of Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens, who they saw as a tight end. In studying Book, Saints head coach Sean Payton said he was drawn to his athleticism, big-game experience, track record of winning and accuracy.
“We spent a lot of time with him,” Payton said. “We felt like it was it was right at the right time in the draft that would be good for us and we’re glad he was there.”
The Saints also made Book their first quarterback acquisition since Drew Brees’ retirement earlier this year. He joins incumbents Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian on the roster. Book will join them in competing to replace Brees. He’s the only player in the Saints’ quarterback room who hasn’t started an NFL game.
Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick in 2015, spent five years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starter. Siemian started for the Denver Broncos in 2016 and 2017 and is signed to a reserve/futures contract. Hill, a quarterback by designation, plays a utility man role that also deploys him at running back, receiver, tight end and on special teams. He not Winston — started four games in place of Brees last year.
Payton pushed back against the notion the Saints took a rookie quarterback flier because their starting job is open. It was much more about the specific player and when he became available, he said. Book was a target on day three.
“I don’t think we treated this year differently because Drew had retired,” Payton said. “I really believe that we had a real good grade on a player that matched right where we were in the process and it fit. I think going back in the last 15 drafts, there are times that we have had a good grade on quarterbacks that it just did not work out. In this case, it did.”
The result is Book, a 6-foot quarterback, ending up with a team and coach that succeeded with a shorter player at the game’s most important position. That’s not to say Book is destined to have similar success as Brees. But Brees’ Hall of Fame-level career is one reason NFL teams are more willing to take a longer look at smaller-framed quarterbacks and find a reason to pick them instead of use the easy reason not to. The Saints saw a lot more they liked in Book that outweighed concerns about his physical makeup.
“I feel like the league is changing,” Book said. “You don’t have to be 6-5 anymore. You can make it work. That’s what I plan on doing.
“Once you’re out there, you forget. You’re as tall as you’re going to get, and you’re out there playing football the way you’ve played your whole life. Nothing is changing for me. I’m just here to prove the people in my circle right.”
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