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In terms of football IQ, Malcolm Mitchell reminds Bill Belichick of Deion Branch

Rookie target Malcolm Mitchell has collected four touchdowns since Nov. 20.

The proverbial “rookie wall” has failed to halt Malcolm Mitchell.

With another slanting touchdown catch through traffic Monday night against the top-ranked Baltimore Ravens defense, as well as a gain of 34 yards on a quick-out that extended into an adlib cut upfield, it’s clear that the Georgia product has instead broken through it.

“He’s just worked hard at it,” New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on WEEI’s Dale & Holley with Rich Keefe. “He’s had a couple points in the season where he’s missed a little bit of time, so maybe that helped sustain it. I’m not sure, but Malcolm works hard. He’s a smart kid.”

Over the course of 12 appearances this season, Mitchell has caught 28 passes for 358 yards on the way to crossing through the end zone four times. But the fourth-round wideout has done most of his damage over New England’s last four games, amassing a total of 21 receptions for 263 yards and all four of his touchdowns since Nov. 20.

The surge can be attributed to abilities that are as much mental as they are physical, according to Belichick.

And with that quick processing, those reads both pre-snap and post-snap, those option routes, and the innate feel for the coverage’s soft spots, Mitchell’s head coach sees some shades of a player from Patriots past.

Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch.

“He’s got a good level of football intelligence, kind of reminds me from that standpoint of Deion,” Belichick said of the 24-year-old Mitchell. “You know, Deion was probably one of the smartest receivers we’ve had in here. Especially as a rookie, he picked up a lot of things, and Malcolm has some of those same qualities.”

It is a comparison that should hold weight. It is one that Belichick wouldn’t have said if he hadn’t meant it.

Branch, who landed in Foxborough as a second-round selection out of Louisville in 2002, caught 43 passes for 489 yards and two touchdowns over 13 contests during his rookie campaign. He’d go on to spend parts of seven years with the Patriots over his 13-year NFL career from there, accruing 328 receptions for 4,297 yards and 25 touchdowns in the regular season, along with 64 receptions for 948 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason.

Mitchell remains a ways out from such a resume. His game isn’t necessarily the same as the one Branch brought to the table. The trust he’s built up with quarterback Tom Brady isn’t yet in the same area code, either. The early returns from the mature first-year pro, though, are as promising as they have been at a position in which the Patriots have historically struggled to develop in-house.

Between the ears and between the lines of play, Mitchell has shown he’s well on his way.

“I don’t know if it’s quite to Deion’s level or not, but somewhere in there,” Belichick continued. “And so, as you get into this point in the year and you start doing things that are a little bit different, you start making adjustments, or they start doing things defensively that cause you to make some adjustments. Players that have that kind of instinctiveness or ability to handle those adjustments, that plays in their favor.”

Mitchell’s instinctiveness and ability to handle adjustments have been played into. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound target has played 221 of New England’s offensive snaps over the last four contests.

He had logged just 192 prior to then.

Branch Jr. or not, that’s as true of an endorsement as there is.