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on football | ben volin

Ryan Mallett unimpressive in Patriots opener

LANDOVER, Md. — NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock caused quite a stir this week when he declared that Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett “popped” at practice against the Redskins.

Only one thing popped Thursday night at FedExField, though, when the teams met for the first preseason game: Mallett’s trade value.

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Nothing against the kid, who should be commended for the way he has patiently sat behind Tom Brady for the first three seasons of his NFL career.

Let’s just please stop pretending that one of the other 31 teams is going to give up any sort of significant draft pick to acquire Mallett to be their quarterback. And by significant, I mean even a fourth- or fifth-round pick. He just hasn’t proven anything at the pro level, especially in the preseason games, which are his only significant chance to showcase his talents to the world.

We can’t say he’s “a starting quarterback in this league,” as Mayock did. Nor can we say he’s terrible. Or even mediocre. He’s an enigma.

RELATED | Gasper: Patriots trying hard to pump Ryan Mallett’s value

Mallett has thrown four regular-season passes in three seasons. In the preseason, he plays with and against backups. It’s impossible to give him a fair evaluation.

Being an NFL starter is about managing the clock, controlling tempo and delivering under pressure, not just ripping it in 7-on-7 drills.

Thursday night was classic Mallett. At times, he looked pretty good. On the first drive, he confidently avoided the rush, stepped up in the pocket and fired a laser to Brandon LaFell over the middle for a first down. He did it again on third and 9, squeezing a 15-yard strike into Josh Boyce in between three defenders. He showed really good anticipation on an 11-yard button-hook to Kenbrell Thompkins on third and 10. He’s got a big arm.

At times, he looked not-so-good. He threw a slant pass at LaFell’s feet that never had a chance. He showed no touch on a screen pass to Roy Finch, lobbing it way over his head. And Mallett never should have bothered throwing a bomb down the middle to Thompkins into double coverage. He was lucky it wasn’t intercepted.

And at times, Mallett was let down by his teammates, which is what happens when you mostly play with backups. Left tackle Nate Solder negated Mallett’s big throw to LaFell with a holding penalty. Solder also gave the matador treatment to Brian Orakpo, which led to a sack. And Mallett had a miscommunication with Finch out of the backfield — either Finch should have been looking for the swing pass, or Mallett should have waited and attempted a wheel fade.

The result? Also classic Mallett: 5 of 12 passing for 55 yards in one half of play. The Patriots produced zero points under his direction, and converted just 2 of 6 third downs. The farthest he advanced the ball down the field was Washington’s 36-yard line, and Stephen Gostkowski missed the 54-yard field goal.

RELATED: Patriots have rocky start to preseason in loss to Redskins

Last preseason, Mallett completed 55.3 percent of his passes in four games, with three touchdowns and an interception. The year before, it was 49.3 percent with the same TD-to-interception ratio. In his rookie year, 57.1 percent, with one touchdown and one pick.

If you’re Texans general manager Rick Smith, or Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, or Bucs GM Jason Licht, do those numbers “pop” to you? Is there anything about that body of work that screams “NFL starting quarterback?”

The answer, of course, is no. He might be an intriguing prospect in their eyes, but not a player worth giving up a decent draft pick for. He’s someone you bring into camp and let compete. We’re way past that point of the season now.

The Texans might be willing to give up a sixth- or seventh-round pick for Mallett. But that shouldn’t be enticing enough for Bill Belichick. Mallett is more valuable as Brady’s backup than a sixth-round pick.

Because let’s face it, Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t ready to be an NFL backup, even with good numbers: 9 of 13 passing for 157 yards and one touchdown, plus another that was wrongly waived off by the officials. Garoppolo took over after halftime and threw some great deep balls to Brian Tyms (a tall, lanky receiver who came late to camp but is making quite an impression, by the way), but otherwise he’s got that deer-in-the-headlights look in the pocket. There’s a huge jump from the NCAA division formerly known as 1AA to the NFL, and Garoppolo needs a red-shirt year. In training camp practices, Garoppolo is overwhelmed by the speed of the game and complexity of the coverages. He would get swallowed whole in a regular-season game this year.

Mallett gives the Patriots a little bit more peace of mind as Brady’s backup. He could probably manage the game and keep the team afloat if Brady ever went down, like Matt Cassel did. But the bigger question revolving around Mallett isn’t whether he should be starting for another team — it’s whether the Patriots made a mistake by choosing him over Brian Hoyer in 2012. With as good as Hoyer has looked in Cleveland, the Patriots could’ve/should’ve just held onto him and used that third-round pick on a player who could have contributed over the last four years.

Maybe Mallett can play. He hasn’t shown he can, but he hasn’t gotten a fair chance, either. For his sake, I hope he signs with a team next year that gives him a legitimate chance to showcase his stuff and compete for a starting job.

But the idea of the Patriots unloading him this offseason for something of value?

That went “pop” on Thursday night.

Related coverage:

Gasper: Patriots trying hard to pump Ryan Mallett’s value

Patriots have rocky start to preseason

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin
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