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Stafford expects TJ Jones to be Lions' 2016 breakout receiver

Brad Mills / USA TODAY Sports

When Calvin Johnson elected to walk away from football following the 2015 season, Detroit Lions fans were seriously concerned about who would replace him in the lineup.

The Lions signed Marvin Jones to be a starting receiver alongside Golden Tate, but at a recent Q&A, quarterback Matthew Stafford identified third-year receiver T.J. Jones as the player on offense who's set to have a breakout season.

Jones was a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2014. He spent his first season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, but returned in 2015 to contribute 10 catches for 132 receiving yards and one touchdown.

Stafford recalled some big catches Jones made late in the season last year and noted how much he's already improved to explain why he expects Jones to take major strides in 2016, according to the Lions' website.

Told about Stafford's comments, Jones took them as affirmation that his hard work has been worth it.

"I definitely appreciate (Stafford) thinking of me in that manner," Jones said. "It's definitely satisfying when you can tell over the last two years, personally, that I've made strides in my game on and off the field. When you see other people in your position group or even the quarterback starting to notice it's definitely letting you know that you're heading in the right direction with the work that you're doing."

Jones is expected to compete with free-agent signee Jeremy Kerley for the third-receiver role and contribute on special teams, but without Johnson back in Detroit, Jones could see more time if he can become a regular playmaker.

"If anything, now I have to step it up another notch to what I was doing in my regimen and get that much better," said Jones. "I was told coming into the league to do as many things as you can. I just try to take pride in knowing and doing as much as I can."

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