For slightly longer than the last six decades, the Denver Broncos have boasted several legendary athletes. The franchise is mostly known (at least historically) for its defenses over the years. That said, its track record with drafting, signing, and developing wide receivers is as legendary as some of the athletes to don the orange and blue. Steve Watson, Vance Johnson, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker all come immediately to mind. It is, however, 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas whose contributions to the franchise are presently important to acknowledge and reward.
Remembering Demaryius Thomas, Future Denver Broncos Ring of Famer
Demaryius Thomas: The Early Years
After trading up from 24 to 22 in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected raw, but talented receiver Demaryius Thomas out of Georgia Tech. Following the success of fellow G-Tech alumnus Calvin Johnson, Jr. throughout the three previous seasons, then-head coach Josh McDaniels opted to take a chance on Thomas.
Thomas would go on to play in 21 of 32 possible games, only starting seven games in the process. His inability to stay healthy severely hampered the receiver early on in his career. Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow throwing him his passes over these two seasons certainly did not help either. In these 21 games, Thomas accrued 54 catches for 834 yards and six touchdowns. He exhibited issues with concentration throughout his career, but perhaps never more noticeably than in his first two seasons.
It was not until the 2011 NFL Playoffs that Thomas stepped toward his future in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. His playoff debut came against the number one defense in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It would be the first of ten postseason games for Thomas. In this game, he caught four Tebow passes for 204 yards. What most will remember, though, is his game-winning, walk-off touchdown on the first play of overtime. A true contender for the most memorable play in franchise history, this moment birthed the superstar that was Demaryius Thomas.
The Peyton Manning Era and ‘Wide Receiver Heaven’
When Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos ahead of the 2012 season, something changed in Demaryius Thomas. Manning’s aggressive perfectionism and work ethic became contagious. Alongside Eric Decker, Thomas became half of a duo affectionately nicknamed ‘Salt and Pepper’, who quickly became the most formidable receiving duo in the league.
In his first season with Peyton Manning under center, Thomas nearly doubled his career statistics. 2012 saw Thomas earn 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. His numbers throughout Manning’s four-year tenure depict Thomas as the second-most prolific receiver in franchise history.
Thomas never missed a game between 2012 and 2016, playing in and starting all 80 possible games. Since the turn of the century, Thomas was also the only receiver in the league with three consecutive seasons of 1,400 or more yards and 10 or more touchdowns. He accomplished this feat from 2012 to 2014.
In his four years with Manning, Thomas boasted 402 receptions for 5,787 yards and 41 touchdowns. For context, these figures would respectively stand as eighth, seventh, and tied for seventh in franchise history (without even considering Thomas’s four and a half other seasons in Denver.
In 10 playoff games with Denver, Demaryius Thomas posted 53 catches for 759 yards, six touchdowns, and a two-point conversion. Thomas also set the record for receptions in a Super Bowl during the team’s demoralizing defeat in Super Bowl 48. He eventually won Super Bowl 50 with the team in 2015. He remained with the team for two and a half more seasons after winning the Lombardi in 2015.
Retiring in Orange and Blue
Despite his leadership in the locker room, Thomas endured a rather unceremonious departure from the team in 2018. Disagreements with the coaching staff and a difference of vision regarding his role led to the end of his Denver Broncos career. Following his departure from Denver, Thomas played a mere seven games for the Houston Texans and 11 for the New York Jets. He failed to break 40 catches or 500 yards with either team, though his leadership was invariably invaluable.
On June 28th, 2021, Demaryius Thomas announced his official retirement from the NFL. At the conclusion of his career, the future Denver Broncos Ring of Famer had accrued 724 receptions for 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns in the regular season. Of these figures, 665 receptions, 9,055 yards, and 60 touchdowns came with the Broncos. With all but 17 of his career games played for the Denver Broncos, it seemed a foregone conclusion Demaryius Thomas would retire as a member of the team. Thankfully, this inevitability has come to fruition.
There are seemingly countless fond memories of Thomas in orange and blue. His explosive game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, his one-handed catch for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, and his incredible performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 season opener all stand out. Regardless of the memories, there is no valid argument to suggest Demaryius Thomas is not one of the most important receivers in franchise history.
His contributions in such a pivotal era pose an argument Thomas deserves induction into the NFL Hall of Fame as well. To reinforce the argument, Thomas’s statistics outclass several receivers who have already been enshrined in Canton. This debate is sure to last for years to come. Nonetheless, Demaryius Thomas will find himself inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. More importantly, he’ll find himself there sooner than later.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images