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Josh McDaniels fondly recalls Demaryius Thomas, 'devastated' by former WR's death

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Why Demaryius Thomas' NFL career was remarkable (1:38)

Adam Schefter details the inspiring story of Demaryius Thomas' path to the NFL. (1:38)

Shortly after the Denver Broncos had been beaten by the New England Patriots in November 2017, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels saw Demaryius Thomas walking up to him with a smile that was followed with a hug.

It wasn't the first warm exchange between the two men over the years, but it was especially memorable for McDaniels.

The Broncos receiver had a gratitude for McDaniels, who was Denver's head coach when the franchise selected the Georgia Tech wide receiver with the 22nd pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

"He always thanked me with a hug for having faith and trust in him," McDaniels recalled to ESPN. "Then he had the [Broncos'] team photographer take a picture of us. Later, I got a framed photo that he had signed it with a beautiful note."

McDaniels has that framed photo hanging in his home office. And since the NFL world learned Thursday evening of Thomas' sudden death at his home in Roswell, Georgia, it has been difficult for McDaniels to look at it. Thomas was 33.

"Devastating," said McDaniels, echoing many who knew Thomas. "He was the best person I have ever coached. What an incredible human being. I'm so sad for his family and all who knew him. Loved DT."

McDaniels had a little extra time during the Patriots' bye week to read the tributes that many people in the NFL world shared on social media.

"There was so many thoughtful messages posted and all of them were true," McDaniels said. "He was uniquely gifted in that he cultivated every relationship he created throughout his life. He was a uniquely gifted man and player."

McDaniels also was Denver's head of football operations from 2009 to 2011. He recollects a trip he made to Atlanta with general manager Brian Xanders during the week of the draft as they were drawing near to decision time. While teams gave Thomas good grades, many expected that Dez Bryant would be the first receiver selected in 2010.

The Broncos surprised by making Thomas the first receiver drafted, but there were some concerns about the backgrounds of both Thomas and Bryant.

In Thomas' case, his mother and grandmother were in prison, arrested when he was just 11 years old for their roles in a drug distribution ring. Thomas had no personal red flags, but teams wondered how he was impacted by the arrests and subsequent prison terms of the most important women in his life.

"We spent the whole day with DT and he was such an intelligent, impressive young man, even with what happened with his mom and grandmother," McDaniels recalled. "He dealt with different adversities and was mature beyond his years. He was basically a source of positivity.

"I didn't coach him his whole career, but he always stayed in contact. Every time we played, he'd give me that hug and thank me. I told him he had held up his end of the bargain. He was uniquely gifted at cultivating relationships. Every message I read or saw [after Thomas' death] was true. I'm devastated, like many. The Lord must have needed him."

Roswell, Georgia, police said Thursday night that Thomas was found dead in his home. Preliminary reports, according to police, indicated Thomas' death might have resulted from a medical issue.

LaTonya Bonseigneur, a first cousin who grew up with Thomas, so close they considered themselves siblings, told The Associated Press that the family believes he died from a seizure. Former teammates also noted that Thomas might have been having seizures in recent months.