DENVER — The Broncos organization, fans and former teammates of Demaryius Thomas were shocked with sadness Thursday night as word spread that the receiver great had passed away at 33 years old.
A family member confirmed to 9NEWS that Thomas had died. He had been living in Roswell, Georgia.
The Roswell police department told 9NEWS Thomas was found deceased in his home Thursday evening. They said "preliminary information is that his death stems from a medical issue, and our investigators currently have no reason to believe otherwise."
According to a police report obtained by 9NEWS on Friday, someone called 911 just before 7 p.m. on Thursday and reported that Thomas was in his home unconscious and not breathing. Officers responded and had to forcefully open a gate to access the home and were then met at the front door by the 911 caller.
The officers found Thomas lying on his back in the shower of a bathroom and it was "apparent" he was deceased, the report says. The Roswell Fire Department arrived on the scene and pronounced Demaryius deceased. The Fulton County Medical Examiner arrived at scene and transported Demaryius to their office, according to the police report.
Thomas formally announced this summer he was retiring from the NFL after 10 seasons, the first nine with the Broncos.
The Broncos were to honor Thomas at their home opener Sept. 26 against the New York Jets, the last team he played for in 2019. However, that event was postponed because Thomas was dealing with health issues.
The team will pay tribute to Thomas, including a moment of silence, prior to its game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Empower Field at Mile High.
He last appeared publicly at Peyton Manning's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio in August.
“Just a great person who overcame an unbelievable childhood to be a great success in the NFL,’’ said Brian Xanders, the Broncos’ general manager who, along with head coach Josh McDaniels, selected Thomas in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2010 draft. “For him to overcome that and go on to dominate at Georgia Tech and then have a great career in the NFL just speaks to ... it’s just sad.’’
Several of D.T.'s former teammates passed on their condolences via social media.
From 2010, when the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Thomas was selected by the Broncos, until he was traded to Houston halfway through the 2018 season, Thomas compiled enough production to rank second in team history with 9,055 receiving yards and 60 touchdown catches while his 665 receptions ranked third.
Rod Smith remains the all-time leader in all three categories (849-11,389-68), while Shannan Sharpe, a Hall of Fame tight end, finished second in catches (675).
Those two greats, though, would admit Thomas alone possessed the rare athletic combination of height, strength, and take-it-the-house-from-80 speed.
>> Video below: Remembering former Broncos player, Demaryius Thomas
Broncos All Time Leaders
1. Rod Smith (1995-2006) 11,389
2. Demaryius Thomas (2010-18) 9,055
3. Shannon Sharpe (1990-99, 2002-03), 8,439
4. Lionel Taylor (1960-66) 6,872
5. Ed McCaffrey (1995-2003) 6,200
6. Steve Watson (1979-87) 6,112
7. Riley Odoms (1972-83) 5,755
8. Vance Johnson (1985-93, 95) 5,695
9. Haven Moses (1972-81) 5,450
10. Emmanuel Sanders (2014-19) 5,361
1. Rod Smith, 849
2. Shannon Sharpe, 675
3. Demaryius Thomas, 665
4. Lionel Taylor, 543
5. Ed McCaffrey, 462
6. Vance Johnson, 415
7. Emmanuel Sanders, 404
8. Riley Odoms, 396
9. Steve Watson, 353
10. Brandon Marshall, 327
1. Rod Smith, 68
2. Demaryius Thomas, 60
3. Shannon Sharpe, 55
4. Ed McCaffrey, 46
5. Lionel Taylor, 44
6. Haven Moses, 44
7. Riley Odoms, 41
8. Vance Johnson, 37
9. Steve Watson, 36
10. Eric Decker (2010-13) 33
Counting his 10 playoff games with the Broncos, Thomas finished his career with 777 catches for 10,522 yards and 69 touchdowns. Impressive considering he was a raw receiver from a Georgia Tech program that featured a run-oriented option offense during his three seasons there. Still, in what may have been his best decision in an otherwise turbulent two seasons as the Broncos head of football operations, McDaniels saw enough in Thomas to make him the No. 22 overall draft selection in the 2010 draft -- two spots ahead of where the Dallas Cowboys chose the more heralded receiver Dez Bryant and three selections in front of where the Broncos took quarterback Tim Tebow.
Thomas’ career got off to a slow start because of offseason injuries prior to his rookie year of 2010 and second year of 2011, but he had two breakout games late in the magical Tebow season of 2011. The first was game 12 at Minnesota when Thomas snared four catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns – all in the second half – to lead Denver to a come-from-behind, 35-32 win.
Impressive as 36 yards per catch was, Thomas did even better in the Broncos’ first-round playoff game against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers when he had four catches for 204 yards – 51.0 yards per catch – including an 80-yard catch-and-run walk-off touchdown reception from Tebow on the first play of overtime that gave Denver arguably its most exciting home win since their 1977 AFC Championship Game victory against the rival Raiders.
The 2011 season is also where Thomas began his string of 122 consecutive games played – 132 including playoffs – perhaps his most unappreciated accomplishment in a career of many. During the four-year period from 2012-15 when Peyton Manning was the Broncos’ quarterback, Thomas was unquestionably one of the NFL’s top three receivers, along with Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. During that remarkable four-year span, Thomas averaged 101 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns, easily the most dominant run in team receiving history.
Thomas also played in two Super Bowls during that stretch, setting a Super Bowl record with 13 catches in a 43-8 loss to Seattle in Super Bowl 48, then having just one catch in the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win against Carolina. During the Super Bowl champion reception at White House in June 2016, Thomas arranged to have a letter delivered to Barack Obama, asking the sitting president to pardon his grandmother from a lengthy prison sentence on drug charges. Two months later, Obama did indeed commute Minnie Pearl Thomas’ sentence. A year earlier, Obama had commuted the sentence of D.T.’s mom, Katina Smith.
Born on Christmas Day, 1987, Thomas was 11 years old when a police raid at his Georgia home resulted in the arrest of his mom and then his grandmother on drug charges. Despite that traumatic childhood moment, Thomas was able to become one of the NFL’s best players during the 2010 decade and join Rod Smith and Lionel Taylor as one of the three best receivers in Broncos history.
For the book “The 50 Greatest Players in Broncos History,” Broncos Insider Mike Klis had an extensive interview in 2017 with Thomas, who was ranked No. 18 on the Broncos’ greatest players list. Here is the chapter on Demaryius Thomas:
To become familiar with the journey Demaryius Thomas took to the NFL is to wonder how many other athletically gifted people in this world never got a chance.
Perhaps, the greatest receiver who ever lived never played football because at 11 years old, police officers stormed his home to take away his mother for the rest of his young life.
Maybe, the person gifted with the second greatest receiving skills never got a chance to use them because after his freshman year in college, a coaching change brought in an option offense where the quarterback ran more than he passed, where the team averaged 57 rushing attempts and only 12 pass attempts a game.
This is all part of the Demaryius Thomas story. His mom -- and his grandmother, too -- were imprisoned following a drug sting in Montrose, Ga., as he watched the bust from his home before he was a teenager.
After not only keeping his life together but flourishing enough to later attend Georgia Tech, Thomas’ new coach Paul Johnson instituted a highly successful option offense that generated only 74 pass completions (one by Thomas) in Thomas’ sophomore season. Not 74 pass attempts in one game or two. The entire season. Thomas caught 39 of the 74, or 53 percent.
As a junior, Thomas caught 46 of the Yellow Jackets’ 78 completions (59 percent) for an incredible 1,154 yards – 25.1 yards per catch. What few chances Thomas has had in life, he made the most of them.
There was good that came from adversity. Thomas grew up to become friendly, polite, drug-free and respectful of others.
“My dad and my uncle raised me to be good to everybody,’’ Thomas said in December 2017. “My auntie, too. They used to tell me I’m no better than anybody else. My dad was in the military and he used to get on me to address people ‘yes sir, no sir, yes, ma’am, no, ma’am.’
“As for drugs, I was around it growing up, some of my friends went that way, but I would never do it. I saw what it did to my mom and my granny and I didn’t want what that.’’
Thomas also grew up to become a first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos and one of the NFL’s top two or three receivers during his best seasons while his quarterback was named Peyton Manning.
Thomas’ celebrity no doubt helped bring attention to President Barack Obama, who commuted his mom Katina Smith’s sentence in 2015. And Thomas’ direct plea on behalf of his grandmother Minnie Pearl Thomas with the commander in chief during the Super Bowl-champion Broncos trip to the White House in June 2016 led to another pardon. Today, both mom and grandma are free.
“I’ve been blessed,’’ Thomas said. “I could have gone a different way but everything that happened to me made me a better person. And it made me the player I am today. I had a lot of good guidance along the way. I had people look out for me. I can’t complain how it all turned out but I’ve got more work to do. I want to win more Super Bowls. I want to become a better receiver. I want more catches, more touchdowns. I want to become the best.’’
This might have been my most difficult ranking, primarily because Thomas is still very much an active player. As former baseball union chief Donald Fehr once told me: History should not be judged by contemporaries.
Still, there was no mistaking that even if Thomas had retired today he would go down as one of the 50 best Broncos of all-time. Where to rank him was the problem.
Clearly, Thomas is the most talented receiver in Broncos’ history. No other receiver in team history had five consecutive seasons of at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards, as Thomas did from 2012-16 – a streak he carried into the 2017 season at the time of this writing, by the way. Thomas averaged 98 catches for 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns during that five-year stretch.
No other Broncos receiver ever had the ability to take a receiver screen along the line of scrimmage and go 70-plus yards for a touchdown, as D.T. did five times in his career.
“He reminds me a little bit of Brandon Marshall earlier in his career,’’ said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Marshall had three consecutive 100-catch, 1,100-yards seasons for the Broncos from 2007-09. “I got to know them both when they were puppies. And it was just figuring out how to use what they had. They were both big guys and one thing about Demaryius, to me he was faster than Brandon Marshall. That’s what made him a little scarier. He was very explosive, still is. He figured it out a lot faster than most young receivers because he was just trying to soak it up. He didn’t have a lot of distractions. He’s a consummate pro. I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself up until this point.’’
You’ll notice Rod Smith was the highest-ranked receiver in this book. Even Thomas admitted in the final week of the 2016 season he has not surpassed Smith as the Broncos’ top receiver of all time.
“I hope to get there before I’m through,’’ Thomas said. “But I still have work to do.’’
Smith has about three more seasons worth of catches, yards and touchdowns than Thomas had through the 2016 season.
Smith’s career was about steady, sure-handed production. And leadership. But he couldn’t flash the spectacular, leap up, reach back, haul-in pass like Thomas does on a regular basis. And, again, the run-after-the catch? In 2013, Thomas led the NFL with 718 yards after the catch. He was second among receivers in 2012 (561 yards after catch) and 2014 (680).
So why isn’t Thomas ranked higher? Because for all his catches and big plays – he already ranks third in team history behind Smith and tight end Shannon Sharpe in receptions, yardage and touchdowns – Thomas has dropped a few. In his three seasons from 2012-14, when he averaged 99 catches and 1,494 receiving yards, Thomas was charged with 10, 8 and 10 drops. He had 9 more drops in 2015, 7 in 2016. He was among the top eight in the NFL drops each of those five years.
This is the problem with ranking active players. Ten years after Thomas retires, people will tend to remember only the great plays. He already has a team-most 34, 100-yard receiving games. He has already made four Pro Bowls, more than any other Broncos receiver. He set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions.
Yet, because Thomas signed a five-year, $70 million contract following the 2014 season, more is expected. It’s that way with all the top, active players.
“You know, he does get a lot of criticism about drops and it’s not fair because everybody talks about his drops but everybody forgets he got 1,300 yards (in 2015),’’ said Thomas’ receiver mate Emmanuel Sanders in the days leading up to Super Bowl 50. “Come on man, he’s got 1,300! Leave the man alone. Last year he got 1,600? Okay, last year he got 1,600 and he may have eight drops but I’ll take that. You ask any organization in the National Football League if they’d take Demaryius Thomas and they’ll say, ‘Yes, bring him over here.’ I’m just happy to be a part. I’m happy to be his teammate. He’s a baller. He works his butt off. He has great character.’’
As a kid, football was an afterthought for Thomas. He liked everything but the contact part.
“Growing up, first sport was basketball,’’ he said. “Never played on a travelling team. I always played in the yard. First team I ever played on was my sixth-grade year. Basketball was my first thing. I tried out for football my eighth-grade year, played defense. Didn’t like hitting so I stopped playing. I stuck with basketball. Then track came around. When I was running track, I did the 4 by 100, triple jump and long jump. As I got older, ninth grade, I still didn’t play football, I still played basketball and track. Tenth grade I made up my mind to play football.’’
In that backyard, they used to play a game. They would throw the ball in the air and up to a dozen kids from the neighborhood would fight for it. The kid who wound up with the ball would have to outmaneuver the other kids from one end of the yard to the other.
“I was really good at that game,’’ Thomas said.
He was born on Christmas Day, 1987. One time, I asked him what it’s like to have Christmas for a birthday.
“You ask me that every year,’’ he said on Christmas Day, 2015.
Come Christmas week of 2016, I forgot again. I asked him about having his birthday on Christmas Day. Again. Only this time it was in a small group of media. Thomas could have showed me up, rolled his eyes, dismissed the question, but he’s not that type.
“It’s not the best, but it’s also not bad either,’’ he said with a smile. “You feel cool sometimes, but you get robbed when you’re a kid. … The part that bothers me is when you have to buy gifts for other people on your birthday. I’m still trying to get over that. I’m buying Christmas gifts, but it’s my birthday.”
Thomas was the parting gift Josh McDaniels left for the Broncos. McDaniels’ coaching term in Denver didn’t go well, but he did have the foresight to make Thomas the Broncos’ surprising first-round pick in the 2010 draft, No. 22 overall.
“Didn’t expect to go there at all,’’ Thomas said. “Everything was Dez. I didn’t run much of the route tree in college and then I broke my foot before my combine. I didn’t think I would get drafted in the first round at all.’’
Dez Bryant was the highly touted receiver coming out of the draft but he also had character concerns. After McDaniels clashed with Marshall the previous year, he wanted the coachable Thomas.
After easing into the NFL as a rookie, Thomas broke out in his second season of 2011, even though his quarterback was the passing-challenged Tim Tebow. Then again, Thomas was more accustomed than other receivers to producing in a run-heavy offense as he did so at Georgia Tech.
He missed the first five games of 2011 to recover from an Achilles injury and then a broken thumb, but Thomas in a 35-32 win at Minnesota had 144 yards receiving and two touchdowns off just four catches.
It was the fifth of six consecutive wins Tebow engineered for the Broncos that season, enough to win the AFC West with an 8-8 record that drew a first-round playoff game at home against heavily favored Pittsburgh.
In that game played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Thomas had receptions of 58 and 51 yards during regulation to help the Broncos forge a 23-23 tie against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
On the first play of overtime, Thomas came through with arguably the greatest single play in Broncos history.
The Broncos won the toss and after a touchback, had the ball first-and-10 at their own 20. The call came in. Tebow was in the shotgun with Thomas split wide left, across from Pittsburgh’s best cornerback, Ike Taylor. Tebow faked an inside handoff to tailback Willis McGahee, then drew back and hit Thomas in stride at about the Denver 38-yard line.
Thomas had beat Taylor off the line and was a good step-and-a-half in front when he snagged the pass about helmet high with two hands – in the part of the field where the safety is ordinarily there to defend. The Steeler safeties, though, had creeped up to near the line of scrimmage prior to the snap in anticipation of a Tebow option-run play.
Taylor recovered and started wrapping his arms around Thomas’ shoulders and facemask at the Broncos’ 46. But Thomas warded off his defensive back with a ferocious left stiff arm.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Thomas had a head of steam around midfield but safety Ryan Mundy seemingly had the angle on chasing down the Broncos’ receiver.
“He had the angle,” Thomas said, “But he couldn’t get it.”
Thomas ran all the way to the right corner of the south end zone, and because the field was frozen slick, he kept running into the Broncos’ tunnel, Bo Jackson style. Touchdown.
It had eclipsed Champ Bailey’s 100-yard interception in a 2005-season playoff game against New England as the most jubilant moment at the Broncos’ newer stadium, which opened in 2001.
The sellout crowd went berserk.
“That was probably the biggest play of my career,’’ Thomas said. “Breaking those records with Peyton (in 2013), playing in two Super Bowls, winning the Super Bowl (in 2016), those were great, too. Those were probably bigger in the big picture. But when you’re talking about one play, that catch from Tebow was probably the one.’’
If Sharpe and Smith are top 10 players in Broncos history, there shouldn’t be much problem with Thomas getting a place among the top 20.
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