ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, whose quiet demeanor belied a burning desire to achieve what he routinely called “everyday greatness,” has died at the age of 33, according to police.
Roswell, Georgia, police said Thursday night that Thomas was found dead in his home. Preliminary reports, according to the police, indicated Thomas’ death might have resulted from a medical issue.
Thomas, who would’ve turned 34 on Christmas, had officially announced his retirement from the NFL this past June with a short video with a peace sign and his characteristic smile.
“I’m Demaryius Thomas. I finally came to a decision to hang it up … I’m going to retire and I’m going to retire a Denver Bronco … I’m done and I did well.”
Several former teammates and opponents took to social media early Thursday night as reports of Thomas’ death began to appear. Multiple former teammates said Thursday night Thomas might have suffered from seizures in recent months.
Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who coached Thomas in his last season with the Broncos in 2018, posted on Twitter: “I’m so sad … I’m heartbroken. I’m at a total loss. I’m sick … I’m crying I’m just … I don’t know. The Azzanni family will always love you DT. I’m blessed to have known you. RIP #88.”
DeMarcus Ware, a teammate with Thomas for three seasons, posted a photo of he and Thomas on Thursday night simply captioned “heartbroken,” while Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris posted “so sad man” and former Thomas teammate, linebacker Brandon Marshall posted “Love forever bro.”
They spoke for many as hundreds of Broncos fans posted videos and other tributes.
Thomas had been honored by the Broncos during their home opener on Sept. 26 against the New York Jets.
Thomas was the first of two first-round picks for the Broncos in the 2010 NFL draft — Tim Tebow was the other — and spent nine seasons with the Broncos and finishes his career as the team’s second-leading receiver (9,055 yards), behind only Rod Smith. He is third in franchise history in catches (655) behind Smith and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.
He played in 10 seasons overall and finished with 724 catches for 9,763 yards to go with 63 touchdowns.
“D.T. was the complete package as a wide receiver, growing into one of the very best at his position,” Broncos president of football operations John Elway said in June after Thomas retired. “The combination of his size, speed, strength and athleticism was unmatched. Demaryius’ remarkable consistency and production were instrumental in our offense setting historic records and our team winning a lot of games, including two AFC Championships and Super Bowl 50.”
Thomas had a foot injury — he had been injured working out before the 2010 draft — in his first two seasons in the NFL, but flourished when healthy and with the arrival of Peyton Manning in 2012. Between 2012 and 2015, Thomas had at least 90 receptions and 1,300 yards in four consecutive seasons, joining Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice and Rams legend Torry Holt as the only players to reach those totals over four consecutive seasons.
In the Broncos’ record-setting season in 2013 — Manning set NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) as the Broncos scored a league-record 606 points that year — Thomas finished with a career-best 14 touchdowns. The following season he finished with a career-best 1,619 yards receiving.
Thomas routinely said Manning revealed parts of the game that enabled Thomas to elevate his play. Manning had called Thomas one of the best receivers he had played with in his career. When Manning’s children would come to practices, Thomas was routinely the first player they would run to as the players had become close friends. Thomas caught Manning’s 509th career touchdown pass, which gave Manning the career record at the time. A picture of Manning and Thomas posing with a handwritten sign after the game has been on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For many among the team’s faithful, Thomas’ signature play is the catch-and-run 80-yard touchdown, on a short pass from Tebow, in the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card game following the 2011 season.
“For as humble and soft-spoken as Demaryius was during his nine years with our organization, you would have never known he was such a dominant player in our league,” Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement in June. “D.T. was an integral part of one of the greatest offenses of all time, putting up record-setting numbers and giving Broncos fans so many unforgettable memories. I’ve never heard Empower Field at Mile High louder than his game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Steelers in the playoffs.”
Thomas’ teammates, coaches and friends have often referred to all he had overcome to reach first Georgia Tech and then the NFL. His mother, Katina Smith, went to prison on drug charges when Thomas was 11 years old. With his father in the military, Thomas began working before school, picking corn, peas and butter beans for farmers to help support himself.
His mother’s sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2015, and Smith saw her son play football in person for the first time in the Broncos’ playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 2016.
Manning, who kneeled down on the game’s final play, gave Thomas the football from that play to give to Thomas’ mother.