NFL Draft Injury Impact: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado


Laviska Shenault is an absolutely electric wide receiver prospect from Colorado for a number of reasons, but he has suffered injuries that put into question just how high he should rise in the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s take a 10,000-foot view of Shenault and evaluate how his injuries will affect not only his draft stock, but also his pro career. 

The Measurables: 

21 years old, 6’2”, 220 lbs

The Stats: 

31 career games, 16 starts, 149 receptions, 1,943 yards, 10 TD’s, along with 42 rushing attempts, 280 yards, and 7 TDs. 

The Injuries: 

  • 2018: right turf toe, required surgery
  • 2018: torn left shoulder labrum, required surgery
  • 2019: upper core muscle injury 

The stats ooze first-round talent, but the injuries make one hesitate. 

While much has been written about Shenault’s athletic feats, not as much has been written about his injuries. Three injuries in two years isn’t a great look for someone trying to get drafted in the first round, but injuries do not preclude someone from getting their shot in the NFL. Each injury in itself isn’t all that concerning, but combined together, they could form a pattern that could affect his draft stock. 

Going in chronological order, Shenault had a breakout sophomore year that had him in talks for the Heisman through six games. Unfortunately, he suffered a right turf toe injury against USC that sidelined him for three games, derailing his chances. He was able to come back and play in one game before suffering a torn left shoulder labrum against Utah. He played in the season finale before getting surgery for both, as the Buffaloes were not bowl-eligible.

Turf Toe: Mechanism of Injury

Reviewing a turf toe injury, this occurs when the great toe is sprained. This is the result of the toe getting hyper-extended due to the foot bending too far forward. This occurs when pushing off during sprinting or if the foot is on the ground with the toe extended and another player falls on the foot. I was unable to find any specific video of the actual injury, but thanks to social media, we know that it is his right foot that sustained the injury, seen by the walking boot below.

Turf toe typically becomes a chronic injury unless proper rest and rehab is performed, roughly four to six weeks, but during the middle of a football season it’s hard to take enough time off to get fully healthy. He did miss three games but was able to still perform afterward, hauling in 10 receptions for 102 yards, 9 receptions for 64 yards, and 7 receptions for 65 yards. He likely had to play with a stiff-soled shoe and tape the toe for support.

Turf Toe Surgery

Following the season, the toe apparently was unstable enough that it required surgical intervention, which is rare for turf toe to begin with. He likely had a grade-3 tear to the plantar plate, which is the tissue underneath that connects to the toe to prevent it from bending too far forward. There may have been a possibility that he tore the plantar capsule or damaged the sesamoid bones that are underneath the first metatarsal and act as pulleys for the tendons in order to allow the toe to move freely but to maximize the lever mechanism seen in the plantar fascia when walking for toe-off and heel strike. While we are not certain what was ultimately injured, it is likely one of those issues that required surgery. Fortunately, the rehab for this injury is relatively brief with an overall recovery timeline of three to four months, seen here and here

Turf Toe Outcomes

Outcomes for the surgery are very good, with 95-percent of patients reporting satisfaction in this study, and in this study showing that 87-percent of participants were satisfied, with 7.6-percent having a recurring injury and 2.8-percent having a revision. However, these studies are not specific to athletes, so outcomes may differ. As with any surgery, there are no guarantees, but close monitoring and proper care can help maximize outcomes. Finding outcome studies was difficult due to the rare nature of requiring turf toe surgery in the first place. 

Shoulder Labral Tear

One game removed from returning from the turf toe, Shenault suffered a labral tear in his left shoulder. The labrum helps deepen the shoulder socket by creating a cartilage ring for the humeral head to articulate with the glenoid fossa of the scapula in order to allow the shoulder to stay in place. When a labral tear occurs, a part of that rim tears, creating instability within the joint during movement. Think of a golf tee that has a chip out of the top. When the golf ball is placed on top, it does not sit as securely and is more likely to fall off.

Labral Tear Mechanism of Injury 

Injuries to the labrum occur when there is a fall on an outstretched arm, a direct blow, or pulling on the shoulder strongly enough to cause a shoulder dislocation. These can also occur with athletes performing overhead throwing activities with abduction and external rotation and can commonly be observed with rotator cuff pathologies. Partial dislocations, also known as subluxations, can occur with the joint being disrupted enough that the labrum could tear. It’s not known how Shenault suffered the injury but, like the turf toe, it was severe enough that it required surgery.

Labral Tear Surgical Outcomes

Recovery for a labral repair is roughly a four to six month timeline, though it can be longer in some cases. Outcomes of these surgeries are typically excellent, with a recurrence rate of roughly 10-percent in the general population, with rates as high as 25-percent in collision sports. The research is also on Shenault’s side, as 100-percent of athletes who do suffer a labral tear return to play at the same or higher level of competition. There are discrepancies on how well they return, according to the article, but the ability to return is excellent. Despite both injuries and missing three games, Shenault was still able to haul in 86 receptions for 1,011 yards and seven TDs. He was also able to add 17 rushes for 115 yards and five TDs. 

After having surgery on both areas early in 2019, Shenault came into the season ready to build on his productive 2018 season. Unfortunately, he was unable to increase those numbers, playing in 11 games and settling for 56 receptions for 764 yards and four TDs, along with 23 carries for 161 yards and two TDs. On top of that, he suffered yet another injury, detailed below.

Core Muscle Injury

Shenault missed the October matchup against Arizona due to what was termed an upper core muscle injury against Arizona State the week before. This was due to a designed run play that went for 23 yards before Shenault was hauled down by an Arizona State defender, having to grab and twist him down, likely causing the injury. Click here to see the suspected play resulting in injury. While it was impossible to state what exactly injured due to the wide variety of core muscle injuries, it’s possible that he suffered an external oblique strain due to the sudden twisting of the upper body as he was tackled, along with the injury description in the article above. Thankfully, it did not appear to be serious, and he was able to return after missing one game. 

Injury Draft Analysis

There are concerns with Shenault moving forward declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. His health heading into the draft certainly raises some concerns, but research does support that his position is frequently injured, second only to defensive backs. To note, this study does not explicitly state what injuries wide receivers are more likely to deal with. It did break down the percentages of the types of injuries, with lower extremity injuries accounting for 61.9-percent of all injuries. This research also supports the lower extremity injury rates in wide receivers over a 14-year period. It must be noted that each of these injuries did not predispose him to suffer the other injuries; these are all independent of each other.

Looking at Shenault’s body composition of 6’2” and 220 lbs, one could make the assumption that he is too small and would need to bulk up to withstand the rigors of the NFL, considering all the injuries he’s sustained. But his weight of 220 lbs puts him right in a sweet spot to manage injury, according to Football Outsiders. According to the graph, Shenault could reduce his injury risk by losing some weight, but the benefit would be so minimal that it may do more harm than good.

Overall, there are some concerns with Shenault heading into the draft. He has the injuries listed above, with my concern ranked from most to least:

1). Turf toe injury 

2). Shoulder labrum tear 

3). Core muscle strain. 

Add in the fact that he played more games his junior year than his sophomore year and produced less, and that worries me, as well.

NFL Impact

My biggest concern is whether his body will be able to adapt to the next level. His talent will certainly get him drafted, but his injuries and ability to stay healthy may dictate how long he lasts in the league. I have seen him compared to Sammy Watkins during the draft process. That comparison is excellent, but Watkins came in with nearly the same frame of 6’1” and 211 lbs and dealt with a series of injuries following getting drafted to Buffalo. Watkins has since rebounded and had a steady career but is far from the game-changing receiver he was drafted to be. 

Shenault is not Watkins, but as someone who had injury concerns during his time in college, attempting to transition to the next step may be difficult. I have seen publications mock him as a first-round pick. I can see where his talent may outweigh the injury concerns, but I believe Shenault is not worthy of that first-round billing. There has been much talk about how deep this wide receiver class is this year, which could hurt Shenault. I could see him drop if there is a run on another position, but I do not anticipate a free fall as we saw with Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf last year, who ultimately slipped to the end of the second round

Looking at injuries, I can also see a comparison to Anthony Miller, who suffered a Jones fracture prior to the 2018 draft and a shoulder labral tear during his rookie year. Miller has turned out to be a great pick for the Bears so far and has overcome injuries. Hopefully the same will eventually be said for Shenault. While the foot injuries are not the same for Miller and Shenault, there is still always a concern for receivers who have foot problems, such as what Sammy Watkins was well-known for during his time in Buffalo. 

The team that picks Shenault better ensure that they can keep him healthy as he learns the NFL game. That team shouldn’t make him their number one receiver off the bus or expect him to be a game-changer immediately. It does take some time for a receiver to develop and produce, but getting a majority of the snaps and playing early may cause further injury and stunt his growth. I believe that if he went to a team that could use him as a third option initially, he could grow and learn the offense while avoiding some of the strenuous expectations put on receivers.

The NFL Combine will be an excellent place where Shenault can make or break his draft position not just with physical testing, but also with interviews and medical evaluations. He will make a difference for whoever he is drafted to, but developing him over the course of a year in an NFL system and not rushing him onto the field may be the key to keeping Shenault healthy and productive for a long NFL career.

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