Thomas’ career hit just about every single high one can reasonably hope for. The 2010 first-round pick holds multiple team records. He’s behind only Ring of Famer Rod Smith in most career receiving marks. He once set the Super Bowl record for receptions. He won five AFC West championships, two AFC title games and one Super Bowl. He was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls, an achievement only three other players have done as Broncos. Simply put, Thomas is a practical lock for the Ring of Fame.
As the first receiver drafted in that 2010 class, Thomas arrived in Denver with boundless potential but a lot of work still to be done to fulfill it.
After recovering from a broken foot that he suffered during the draft process, Thomas made his debut for Denver during the second week of the season. With a team-leading eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown, Thomas had the third most productive first game by a receiver in team history.
It was a promising start, but his rookie season was soon derailed. He had just 14 more receptions the rest of the season, which ended early for him because of injuries.
The months that followed were no less rocky; he tore his Achilles tendon in February and then, after making a stunning recovery that would have allowed him to return early in the 2011 season, he broke a finger and missed more time.
Given all these hurdles, Thomas admits he faced some doubts about his future in the NFL.
“I came in with … the broken foot, and then coming off the Achilles, it was some doubt there because there was other things going around ball that bothered me,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, I still chased it. I kept my head on and I still chased it. I got around some people that could help me get better and get healthier. I was still chasing the goal of being the ultimate best receiver, you know, being the best I can be and trying to get a Super Bowl.”
Those achievements were still a long way away then in 2011, but he’d find his groove later that year, finishing the season with one of the most unforgettable moments in team history.
In a wild-card game matchup against Pittsburgh, the Broncos were underdogs by more than a touchdown despite playing on their home turf. The Broncos built a large lead, gave it up and then clung to a tie game as regulation came to a close. Then, on the first play of overtime, Thomas dashed across the field on a crossing pattern, caught a pass from Tim Tebow, turned the corner, stiff-armed a Steelers defensive back and then sent the stadium into hysterics with the sudden-death win. When the NFL celebrated its 100th season in 2019, the league named Thomas’ touchdown the 76th-best play in league history.
The next season, with newly signed free agent Peyton Manning under center, Thomas developed from a promising, evolving player into one fully blooming in an explosive offense that would help him fulfill his potential. A physically imposing receiver that could build speed quickly in space, he became a matchup problem that most teams struggled to contain.
In 2014, Thomas put himself into the Broncos’ record books with a 226-yard game and a 1,619-yard season, both of which still stand as the best marks in team history. But perhaps of more significance to him that year was his part in making league history as the recipient of Manning’s 509th career passing touchdown, then an NFL record.
But even as the Pro Bowl selections started rolling in, Thomas kept his focus on the team.
“I wouldn’t say took off for me, I would say took off for us as a whole group,” Thomas said. “We learned as a group because I had games where I had over  yards before he got there. … And then having the group learning together as a whole, as one, thinking like one, that’s when the best came out of all of us.”
A year later, Thomas and the rest of the Broncos reached the pinnacle as the team advanced to Super Bowl 50 and took down the Panthers to secure Denver’s third Lombardi Trophy.
With all that on his resume, why would he feel any remorse?
“No regrets at all,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason to. I’m here, I’m blessed. … I tried to do what I could do every play — if it was catch a ball, if it was to block somebody. I tried to put my everything in it every time.”