On Tuesday, the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans. We look back at Thomas’ time in Denver, where he became one of the best receivers in team history.
When you think about the greatest receivers in Denver Broncos history, three names typically come to mind: Rod Smith, Lionel Taylor, and Demaryius Thomas.
For the last couple of weeks, rumors have circulated that the Broncos were considering moving on from the newest member of that group, and on Tuesday, those rumors came to fruition as the Broncos shipped Thomas and a 2019 seventh-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for a fourth and seventh-round pick.
The trade ended Thomas’ eight and a half year stint in Denver, who used one of their two first-round picks in 2010 to select the receiver out of Georgia Tech.
From there, Thomas would go on to post huge statistical seasons and see himself move into the top three in almost every major Broncos receiving category. His 9,055 yards and 60 touchdown catches are second in Broncos’ history to Smith, and he sits at third in career receptions behind only Smith and former tight end Shannon Sharpe with 665.
On top of that, his 36 career 100-yard games are more than any Broncos’ pass catcher.
The start of Thomas’ career in Denver was plagued by injuries that forced him to miss six games in his rookie season, in which he would only haul in 22 passes. In the second week of that season, though, Thomas foreshadowed what was to come by catching eight balls for 97 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, a win against the Seattle Seahawks.
In his second season, he was the second leading receiver on the team despite only catching 32 passes for 551 yards and four touchdowns. That was the year, if you recall, that the Broncos ran a run-heavy option attack with Tim Tebow at the helm. The offensive scheme paired with another injury was the reason for his well-below-average numbers that year.
Despite his unremarkable numbers in 2011, that was the season that Thomas first etched his name in Broncos lore. On January 8th, 2012, the Broncos hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in what was, at the time, their first playoff game since hosting Pittsburgh in the 2005 AFC Championship Game.
Going into the game as eight-point underdogs, the Broncos built up a surprising 20-6 lead by halftime. Pittsburgh rallied though and tied the game at 23-23 with less than four minutes in regulation. The Broncos defense managed to hold the Steelers’ offense out of field goal range on their last drive, and the game went into overtime.
On the first play of overtime, Tebow found Thomas wide open in the middle of the field. Thomas caught the pass, stiff-armed Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, and outran the rest of Pittsburgh’s defense en route to an 80-yard game-winning touchdown, sending Sports Authority Field into a frenzy. The play will forever be remembered as one of the greatest in the Broncos’ storied history.
That was just the beginning for Thomas. The next year, the Broncos would sign a “washed up” free-agent quarterback who was coming off multiple neck surgeries. His name was Peyton Manning.
With the signing of Manning, Thomas’ career took off and he became one of the most dominant receivers the game had to offer, amassing over 1,000 yards in each of Manning’s four seasons in Denver. He finished in the top five in yards in each of Manning’s first three seasons, and his 14 touchdowns in the Broncos’ record-breaking 2013 campaign were tops in the league among wide receivers.
In 2014, Thomas again found himself part of NFL history when he was on the receiving end of Manning’s league-record 509th career touchdown pass. In all, Thomas racked up 402 catches for 5,787 yards and 41 touchdowns during the “Manning Era” of 2012-2015, which also included a handful of games catching passes from Brock Osweiler.
Most important of all, he was a major contributor on the Broncos’ 2015 squad that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50, though he only caught one pass for eight yards in the game.
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Even with all the gaudy numbers, his tendency to drop catchable passes was the ultimate reason for Demaryius’ demise in Denver. Thomas’ struggles with dropping the football have dated all the way back to his college days, and since 2015 he ranks second in the NFL in dropped passes, according to The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla.
Year after year, Demaryius’ big plays have been almost overshadowed by his propensity to drop the football. Unfortunately, many Broncos fans may even remember him for his drops more than his production.
Broncos General Manager John Elway ultimately decided that his production on the field was not living up to the amount of money he was being paid, and that is why Thomas is now a Houston Texan. It won’t be long before Broncos fans see Thomas play in Denver again, and that’s because his first game as a Texan will come this Sunday when his Texans will bring their five-game winning streak to the Mile High City.
It was admittedly frustrating to watch Thomas drop what seemed like at least one catchable pass per game. Even with that said, he deserves to be remembered for the legendary play against Pittsburgh, the pure dominance he displayed during Manning’s tenure, being a part of the Super Bowl 50 championship, and as one of the greatest Broncos to put on the uniform.