NFL Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall et al. the New NFL Tough Guys

Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams collides with a twisting and turning Calvin Johnson, and the defender ends up on the ground, into a state of falling out.

Brandon Marshall protects the ball with the upper-body strength of a super-elite security guard protecting a prize opal from charging would-be interceptors.

These and a select few other wide-receivers-who-are-beasts are the new NFL tough guys.

Instead of getting pushed down and pushed around, Johnson and his like have been known to knock DBs and linemen alike on their ass when they get the chance.

The old tough guys are still tough guys. Linebackers haven’t lost a step in physicality since Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary, and before that a toothless, squinting, scary Jack Lambert. Some current LBs are quicker, bigger, stronger and more durable even than their tough guy predecessors.

Now the new breed of pro receiver joins the ranks of tough guys as intimidating, massively strong, physically dominant and yet sweetly agile—always in contact with defenders, always in a fight, always ready to wrestle. Their development marks an evolution in competitiveness that will be fascinating to watch as it plays out.

With a healthy Matthew Stafford throwing prize opals to Megatron, we’ll continue to witness blockbuster athleticism and power from the receiver whose nickname only hints at his fortitude.