ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Tim Patrick first landed with the Broncos back in the middle of the 2017 season, he was under no assumption that any of the team's veterans would take him, an undrafted rookie on the practice squad, under their wing.
His experience previously had told him to expect that much. So when Demaryius Thomas, a living legend in his eyes, did exactly that, Patrick was awestruck.
"When I first got into the league, there's what you call 'superstar players' that are kind of standoffish — not, I want to say, totally so, but they wasn't as open as D.T. was with me," Patrick said Tuesday. "D.T. kept it real with me since Day 1, when I met him."
The most important piece of advice may have also been the simplest: "just to be myself." But as obvious as that may sound, it may not have been so clear at that time to Patrick, who was already on his third team since entering the NFL just six months earlier.
"'Don't let anybody else change you, because what got you here was being you,'" Patrick recalled Thomas telling him. "And, 'Don't let the downs get you too down, and don't let the highs get you too high. You've just got to be yourself and have fun out there.'"
Over the next year, Patrick delighted in being able to learn from the five-time Pro Bowler. He observed exactly the amount of care Thomas took to keep his body in top shape and the amount of detail he put into his work at practice.
"It was huge, and you see what he does on Sundays, but people don't see what he put in on the weekdays," Patrick said. "And I think that's what made D.T., because the work that he put in before the game was just insane. His route-running was insane. I don't think people appreciate how good of a route-runner he is."
Like Thomas, Patrick carries a larger frame as a wide receiver at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, and even though he may not have all the same physical gifts that Thomas did, he could relate to him and try to emulate what made Thomas successful.
"Him being my size just made it that much easier for us to connect, because most guys … can't run routes like him — and I kind of just modeled my game [after] the way he played it," Patrick said. "[I'm] not as explosive as he is, because he's one of a kind, but I try to do as much like him as I possibly can."
After Thomas announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, Patrick made sure to express his appreciation, writing "Real life 🐐" on Twitter in reaction to the news. More than two years since they last were teammates, Patrick is still struck by how Thomas took the time to help him when he didn't have to.
"It meant a lot because when you look at somebody that, I want to say, like, is the standard of a receiver, it means a lot being an undrafted guy and he took the time to help me become a better receiver, become a better man, giving the ins and outs of how to take care of my body," Patrick said.
Perhaps there was no better example of Thomas' grace and kindness in a tough situation than when Patrick experienced the breakout moment of his career as Thomas endured a painful performance. During a Week 2 game against the Raiders in 2018, Patrick caught a key pass with 18 seconds left to set up a game-winning field goal.
That same game had been a tough outing for Thomas, but he remained encouraging and upbeat toward Patrick as he was frustrated with himself.
"He was positive," Patrick said. "He just told me my time was going to come. He was like, 'If you keep making plays like that, your time is going to come. You've just got to stay true to the grind.' For him to say that after having a moment like he did, it meant a lot, because he didn't have to say anything to me. He's earned that right to not have to say anything, and he took the time to congratulate me on my catch, and it was huge."
Thomas' words proved prescient, as Patrick emerged as a top wideout for the Broncos in 2020. He caught 51 passes for 742 yards and led the team with six touchdown receptions.
With Patrick hoping to build on that career year, he said he'll soon be making a trip to Georgia to meet back up with Thomas before training camp to try to learn more from his former mentor.
"I'm excited," Patrick said. "It's something I've been wanting. I just want to pick his brain, honestly. That's the whole point of it: just pick his brain, get more ins and outs [of the game]. You can never learn too much about this game. Somebody that did that at the highest level, I can't wait."