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Bagshot, England — During his eight-year career, Calvin Johnson has averaged 87.2 receiving yards per game, most in NFL history. Julio Jones is second with 83.2.

Not much has gone right for the Atlanta Falcons (2-5) this season, but Jones staying healthy has been a bright spot. After playing just five games in 2013, the fourth-year receiver has 49 catches for 676 yards, ranking fifth in the NFL.

As immortal as Johnson has looked at times, he will retire someday, and when he does, the crown for the top receiver in the league will be available. Jones will likely be one of the players fighting for the title, along with Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and others.

"Very talented," Johnson said of Jones this week. "Young, explosive and physical receiver. Staying healthy, I would expect him in the next couple years to be one of the top-tier receivers in the league."

The Lions defense will treat Jones like a top-tier weapon when they face him Sunday. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin smiled wide when asked how good Jones is.

"How good is Julio? He's pretty good," Austin said, before providing specifics. "He's a game-wrecker, he's big, he's got tremendous speed, he can run good routes, he can take the top off a defense, he can run across, catch a short one and outrun everybody.

"He does a lot of things that you have to prepare for and say, 'Hey, we can't let this guy do this.'"

The Lions have done well containing a few other big-play threats this season, including holding Jordy Nelson to five catches for 59 yards in a Week 3 win over the Packers, and containing Jones will be a major key to success Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Veteran Roddy White (28 catches for 353 yards) has had an excellent career, and return man Devin Hester (18 catches for 263 yards) has shown an ability to contribute on offense in his first year in Atlanta. But Jones is the engine that moves the Falcons offense with 77 targets so far, leading the NFL through seven games.

It helps that Matt Ryan has been among the more consistent quarterbacks during the past five years.

"He's got everything that you look for in a quarterback," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "All the intangibles, he's got height, he's got leverage, he's got speed, he can run. … He makes really good decisions as well, and he can make all the throws."

But as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can attest, having a big, fast and physical receiver always makes things easier for a signal-caller. Jones is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the NFL combine.

After seeing Jones play at Alabama and crush the combine, the Falcons traded five draft picks — all fourth-round or higher — to the Cleveland Browns to select him sixth overall in 2011.

"He's big, physical guy like Calvin and has down-the-field speed," Stafford said. "There's very few guys in the league that have that speed and power combination. Obviously, Calvin has been doing it for a lot longer than Julio, but when they're both healthy, they're both fun to watch."

Austin said Jones is a little stronger than Johnson, but Johnson is taller. With their speed, though, they pose a similar threat.

Lions safety James Ihedigbo said Jones has a big catch radius that helps him make plays. And even though he called Jones a "great player," Johnson is still on the throne.

"Calvin's a beast of his own," Ihedigbo said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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