Wild Card Weekend in the NFL lived up to its billing, because it certainly was a wild one indeed.
One of the most outstanding performances this past weekend was from a former Georgia Tech wide receiver who, in his playoff debut, put up over 200 yards receiving, and vaulted into the top ten for receiving yards in NFL playoff history.
Although he also put up historic numbers in a loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, the receiver I’m talking about is not Detroit’s “Megatron” Calvin Johnson, but a former teammate of his at Georgia Tech, Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas.
According to a Denver Post report published in October, Johnson taught Thomas a lot during their only season playing together in 2006, including “getting off the ‘press’” and reading defenses. At the time, Johnson was a senior while Thomas was a redshirt freshman.
Early on in his career Johnson earned his “Megatron” moniker from former teammate Roy Williams, and appropriately so given his size at 6'5" and 235 pounds. The nickname is a reference to Johnson’s size in power in comparison to the arch villain from the Transformers cartoon series.
Thomas is similarly built with the same weight on a 6'3" frame. The similarities and close relationship between the two receivers have earned Thomas a similar Transformers nickname of “Optimus Prime” but Thomas prefers the nickname “Bay Bay”, which he earned from his grandmother.
Back in October, Johnson and Thomas went head to head for the first time as pros when the Detroit Lions came to Denver. “Megatron” threw down with six receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown. Thomas looked very much the apprentice with just one reception for 10 yards. In fact, the whole Denver team looked horrible in the 45-10 loss. It brought the Broncos record to 2-5, and the team looked far from a playoff contender.
Thomas bounced back from the injuries that plagued him all of last season, improved his play, and the Broncos eventually made the playoffs.
It’s now the postseason and now both Johnson and Thomas showed they can be superstars in the NFL playoffs. The only difference? Denver is still in while Detroit is out.
If yesterday’s performance showed us anything, it’s that Thomas is just as important to the Broncos as Johnson is to the Lions.
Thomas caught a key 51-yarder early in the game to set up Denver’s first touchdown. In overtime, Thomas became a hero yet again as he caught an 80-yarder and streaked down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown, stiff-arming Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor along the way.
But Thomas is as important to his team not just as a receiver, but also as a run blocker. Thomas earned this valuable skill at Georgia Tech when the team focused on a triple-option style after losing Calvin Johnson to the NFL Draft.
Built like a tight-end, he has also been used like a tight-end in run blocking, which has helped in Denver’s success this season using the run-option scheme and adapting it to the NFL.
With the aid of Thomas’ 80-yard “miracle” catch, Denver now advances to play New England next weekend, while Detroit starts their offseason. Yet again, Megatron has been defeated while Optimus Prime has moved forward.
Only time will tell us which of the two will be the first to win a Super Bowl ring.
Marco Cummings is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Statistics were obtained from NFL.com with the assistance of Denver Broncos Media Relations.