NFL Draft: Ian Book, Drew Brees now have Notre Dame-New Orleans connection

Anthony Anderson
South Bend Tribune Correspondent

If Ian Book wants to look up Drew Brees for some advice, he’ll know at least one familiar place to find the quarterbacking legend.

Book effectively swapped football destinations with Brees when he was chosen by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday in Cleveland.

“He just went to Notre Dame, he’s going to be broadcasting there,” Book said of Brees, who retired this spring and will serve as an analyst for NBC on Irish telecasts next fall, “so I missed him by a season there, but would love to talk to him and obviously pick his brain about everything.”

Book, the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, went considerably higher than most draft experts were projecting him — in the sixth or seventh round, if at all — when New Orleans grabbed him with the 133rd overall pick.

He was watching the draft with family and friends in his hometown of El Dorado Hills, Calif., when his name was called.

“My heart is still pounding, such a surreal moment, something I dreamed of for such a long time,” Book said on Zoom shortly after his selection. “To get this call with my family and everybody here in town, it’s everything I’ve wanted for such a long time.”

Brees, the former Purdue star, announced his retirement in March following 20 NFL seasons, the final 15 with the Saints. He’s the league’s all-time leader in passing yards, second in touchdown passes and second in completion percentage.

His departure still leaves a pair of NFL veterans, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, looking to compete for the New Orleans starting role next season.

Hill was seen as more of a gadget-plays guy until last year, when he started four games in place of the injured Brees and led the Saints (12-4 overall) to a 3-1 record. He signed a four-year, $40 million extension this offseason.

Winston was Tampa Bay’s starter for five years before joining New Orleans prior to last season. He signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal this offseason.

The team also has Trevor Siemian, who started for Denver in 2016 and 2017, but who has attempted just six passes over the last three years while spending time with three clubs.

Is there any way Book could actually beat all those individuals out right away?

“That would be, I think, a little bit of a jump,” longtime Saints coach Sean Payton said Saturday night on Zoom, “but we’re not gonna ever put a ceiling on what we think a player might be able to do, but his job will be to come in here and as quickly as possible get up to speed with what we’re doing, our terminology, and then we go from there.”

The coach was nevertheless encouraged to have Book on board.

“We spent a lot of time with him,” Payton said of the pre-draft process. “The first thing you see is he’s won a lot of games. Real good competitor. We liked a lot (about him). He’s played in big games, played at a high level. We felt like it was right at the right time in the draft that would be good for us, and we’re glad he was there.”

Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) finished his college career as the winningest quarterback in Irish football history.

The main questions regarding Book have been about his downfield arm strength and his height, though at 6-foot tall, he matches Brees.

“That’s just been the story my whole entire life,” Book said of concerns over his height. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder (because of it). You know, I’m not getting any taller. Drew Brees has been able to do it. There’s many other quarterbacks — you could go down the list — who have been able to do it.”

Book said he only thinks about size when asked about size.

“Once you’re out there (on the field), you forget,” Book said. “It doesn’t matter. You’re as tall as you’re gonna be, and you’re out there playing football the way you’ve been playing it your whole entire life.”

Book said he had multiple “great meetings” with the Saints leading up to the draft.

“Definitely felt like it was a good spot for me, somewhere I could go and compete,” Book said. “We had good meetings over Zoom and I was just crossing my fingers. I was really hoping for any team, but this is an unbelievable spot for me. I think I have a great opportunity.”

Book arrived at Notre Dame with just a three-star rating, but went on to set multiple career school records that include completion percentage (63.8) and lowest interception rate (1.8).

He’s also second in both career passing yards (8,948) and career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,518), as well as third in career efficiency rating (147.0).

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) has plenty to smile about this season.

As a grad student, Book steered the Irish (10-2) to a College Football Playoff for the second time in three years this past season, completing 228-of-353 passes for 2,830 yards with 15 touchdowns against just three picks. He also scampered for 485 yards and nine TDs.

In 2019, Book was chosen 11-2 ND’s offensive player of the year. With 3,034 yards on 240-of-399 passing and 34 touchdowns against six picks to go with 546 ground yards, Book became the first-ever Irish QB to reach 2,500 pass yards, 500 rushing yards and 30 TD throws in the same year.

As a junior in 2018, Book hit on 214-of-314 passes for a Notre Dame single-season record of 68.2% as the Irish went 12-1 with a spot in the College Football Playoff. He fired 19 TD passes against seven interceptions on his way to 2,628 yards. Except for one brief relief appearance, his stats were compiled over just nine games, after he unseated Brandon Wimbush as the starter in Week 4.

“A lot of doubters,” Book said Saturday as he reflected on his football journey, including landing at Notre Dame. “No one thought I’d ever play there … (but) to be able to be named a two-time captain, never lose one game at home and make it to the playoffs twice, it’s a dream come true.”

Now it’s onward to the next dream.

“Someone who’s really determined and at the end of the day wants to win,” Book said of what Saints fans can expect. “That’s the reason I played quarterback from day one in third grade. It was to play QB and have the ball in my hands at all times and distribute it to all the playmakers, and at the end of day, win football games. That’s what I’ve tried to do my whole entire life, and that’s who I am.”

Golden Notre Dame moment

There are oodles, of course, but one would be engineering the Irish to a 47-40, double-overtime win over No. 1 Clemson last November. Book completed 22-of-39 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown against no picks, and rushed for 67 yards on 14 keepers.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book led the Irish to an upset of No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7, 2020.

5 Things to know about Ian Book

1 — Barely recruited other than on the West Coast, Book initially committed to Washington State in 2015 before flipping to Notre Dame after Mike Sanford was hired as ND’s offensive coordinator and renewed a previous pursuit. Sanford had chased Book while an assistant at Boise State as well.

2 — Book’s Pro Day numbers included 6.7 in the three-cone drill, better than teammates Javon McKinley at receiver and Nick McCloud and Shaun Crawford at defensive back, and his 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds was identical to tight end Tommy Tremble’s.

3 — Book registered a trio of five-touchdown passing games in 2019. No other Irish QB has ever recorded even two such games in the same season.

4 — ESPN’s Todd McShay listed Book as the 10th-best quarterback available in this draft, while colleague Mel Kiper placed Book at No. 13.

5 — Book’s older brother, Nolan, was a linebacker at UC Davis, where he graduated from college in three years.

Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) looks for open receivers during the 2021 College Football Playoff Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1 inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Book twice led Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff.