By: Brady Gardner
Featured image courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics.
The time has come for the second annual installment of this NFL draft series, picking the ideal quarterback target for the New England Patriots. I have my guy, so buckle up.
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Ian Book may not be a popular name in this year’s NFL quarterback draft class. He might not be in some people’s top ten, or on their draft board at all. I disagree.
I think Book is the best fit for the Patriots, and before you laugh, hear me out. There is great value in Book as a low risk, high reward late-round pick for the Pats. Here’s why.
The Book on Book
Allow me to enlighten you on this hidden gem in the Class of 2021. Book was a three-year starter at Notre Dame, going 30-5 with two NCAA semifinal appearances.
The Californian is a mobile quarterback, using his athleticism and instincts to make plays on the move. Book has the arm talent and accuracy to make all the necessary throws, and his fast-twitch style of play doesn’t hinder his clean mechanics. He also possesses the intangibles, regarded as an intelligent player and a natural leader.
Book played in an offense where he was the key weapon. Without top talent, Notre Dame centered its scheme around Book’s versatility, implementing drop-back passes, roll-outs, designed runs, and more. His most popular targets tended to be tight ends, and a dominant offensive line paved the way for a complementary rushing attack.
Let’s stop there for now. Does that all sound familiar to you? This offseason, the Patriots signed the best available tight ends, assembled one of the strongest O-lines in the NFL, and maintained a deep group of running backs. New England’s offense is tailored perfectly to what Book knows, and what Book does. It almost makes too much sense.
A top QB prospect would be fun, but let’s face it. The Patriots aren’t in the market for an elite rookie passer. They have other holes that need plugging quickly for what looks to be a “win now” team. They’re going to wait to take a QB, and that’s where Book will be.
With what they’ve invested in this offense, I think the Patriots will want an all-veteran QB competition for the 2021 starting job. That could be Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham — again — or it could be Cam Newton and Jimmy Garroppolo, which is what I’m leaning towards. Listen to The Duck Boat Report for more of my thoughts on that.
Even if the Patriots don’t need a quarterback right away, though, they would still be smart to take one for their seemingly-nonexistent future at the position. Any QB without immediate starter potential is a project, and Book is as potent a project as anyone.
You want accolades? Book has accolades. Notre Dame’s football program started 134 years ago in 1887. That’s old. Yet Book became one of the most accomplished and most productive Fighting Irish quarterbacks of all time in his tenure at South Bend.
In 2020, Book threw the most passes without an interception in school history (266), and upped his win total to 30, a school record. He ranks second all-time behind eight-year NFL QB Brady Quinn in passing yards (8,938) and touchdowns (72).
Book was just the seventh quarterback to start for Notre Dame in four consecutive seasons, and the 23rd two-time captain of the program. Long story short, Ian Book became a Notre Dame legend. Playing for one of the biggest names in college football, and cold-weather school at that, he thrived. That resume could fit right in with the Pats.
When evaluating Book, the quality of his weapons is always something to keep in mind. Notre Dame’s pass-catchers don’t always get separation by themselves, so Book didn’t have much room for error. His statistics aren’t inflated like some of the other QBs in this class. He had to earn every number here, and his production was still quite impressive.
First, at the base level, Book had a career completion percentage of 63.8. That’s just a couple ticks below the elite passers of this draft class, and his lowest total in a single season was still a solid 60.2. His career passer rating was 147, with marks of 154, 149.1 and 144.3 weighed down by a 119.3 in two appearances as a redshirt freshman.
Now, for the bottom line. After throwing 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a sophomore, he threw for 34 TD’s and just six INT’s as a junior. Along with tossing 15 scores and only three picks as a senior, he beat his previous touchdown total on the ground, running for nine TD’s compared to four in each of the two years prior.
Book became more and more of a dual-threat quarterback over his time at Notre Dame, but his rushing never meant sacrificing part of the passing game. Stop me if you’ve heard this before — stability in the air with a threat of running can work in the NFL.
By The Book
As far as measurables go, Book has elite hands at 9.875 inches, and his 4.65-second 40-yard dash time is among the best in his class. But at 6-foot, 211 pounds, he would be the smallest QB of the Belichick era in New England. Is that concerning? Not at all.
It’s time to throw out the narrative that the Patriots only look for a specific physical mold from their quarterbacks. That may have been true at one point, but not anymore. Seeing Cam Newton on a staff with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham is enough evidence.
Over the last five years, the Patriots have drafted consistently smaller at quarterback. Jacoby Brissett was 6-foot-4, 231 pounds. Danny Etling was 6-foot-2, 222 pounds. Jarrett Stidham is 6-foot-2, 218 pounds. They’re not exactly giants.
Book might be slightly undersized, but that’s becoming the norm in today’s NFL. Russell Wilson is 5-foot-11, 215 pounds. Baker Mayfield is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. Kyler Murray is 5-foot-10, 207 pounds. I could go on. On the field, Book’s play style can mimic any of these three NFL stars, and that’s exactly what the Patriots should be looking for.
With the proper coaching and the necessary time to develop, Ian Book could be the next Wilson, Mayfield, Murray — you name it.
I don’t think it’s crazy to believe in Book as an NFL QB. He has the foundation, the skill set, and the intangibles. Put him in the right situation, and Book could really excel.
On the Bookshelf
That said… is Ian Book ready to play Week 1? Not a chance. But New England doesn’t need him to do that. He might not even suit up on Sundays in 2021, and that’s okay.
With a quarterback room packed with veterans, Book won’t have to shoulder the expectations of being the heir apparent, as Stidham dealt with and mishandled last year. People will think Book is just lucky to be in the organization, so he’ll be able to stay under the radar and develop as a QB for the future, with no pressure on him at all.
An Open Book
Honestly, there’s every chance Book could fizzle out early in his NFL career, or even go undrafted entirely. But he won’t be a bust. At his late-round draft position, any positive impact is a plus. If drafting Book works out, amazing, and if it doesn’t, nothing was lost.
Last year when I campaigned for the Patriots to select Georgia QB Jake Fromm, the Pats took controversial kicker Justin Rohrwasser with pick 159, and the Bills took Fromm at 167. Rohrwasser never cracked a game day roster and was released last month. Fromm is still in Buffalo, ready to continue his development into Year 2.
The moral of the story is, unheralded quarterbacks are worth the investment at that point in the draft. Any late pick is going to be a wild card, so you might as well take a shot on a high-upside position like quarterback instead of, you know, a kicker.
One for the History Books
It feels like there are a million ways this draft could play out for the Patriots, just in terms of QB’s. Will they take a quarterback on Day 2 or Day 3, like they have in recent years? Will they surprise us and take one early? Or will they decide to not take one at all?
With so many options and no clear right answer, there’s no telling how this draft will go for New England. But if they take Ian Book, I’ll be happy, and you should be too.