NFL Draft Injury Impact: Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth


Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth is what a mad scientist would create if they could create the ideal tight end. The junior is 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, stacking up against some of the best tight ends currently in the NFL. Despite declaring early for the draft, Freiermuth still posted stellar numbers over two and a half seasons with 92 receptions for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns, breaking the school record for touchdowns for a tight end. Physically and statistically, he simply exudes what NFL teams are looking for in a tight end prospect.

However, Freiermuth ended his junior season early with a right shoulder injury that is clouded in mystery. This, in turn, could affect his draft stock and how impactful he could be at the next level. Below is a breakdown of Freirermuth’s publicly known injury history. 

2018 season

Appeared in 13 games; suffered an undisclosed injury against Indiana, but the game film is not available to review what he injured. Regardless of what it was, it did not prevent him from playing the next week against Iowa.

2019 season

Appeared in 13 games; did not appear to suffer any publicly known injuries. 

2020 season

Appeared in four games; suffering a shoulder injury against Ohio State. In the following games against Maryland and Nebraska, Freiermuth played in those games with a shoulder harness on his right shoulder. Reviewing the limited game film, it is not clear when he suffered the original injury against Ohio State. 

He eventually was ruled out prior to the Iowa game and underwent season-ending shoulder surgery right after Thanksgiving. There has not been any specific acknowledgment as to what injury he sustained which makes discussing this injury difficult in how it will impact his NFL draft stock. 

However, there are several clues that may allow in identifying what injury he sustained:

  • It is confirmed that it is a shoulder injury sustained in the Ohio State game.
  • During the first two games, the snap count was heavily favored towards him solely against Indiana and Ohio State.
  • In the following two games, Penn State ran more two tight end sets against Maryland and Nebraska. Freiermuth was more of a receiving option from my observations but does line up off-tackle and in pass protection, occasionally blocking during the running game. 
  • In the Nebraska game, he was engaging his blocks but appeared to have trouble maintaining the block when having to use the right side. To me, this would indicate that he was unable to engage blocks as effectively as before, requiring another tight end to fill those duties, freeing up Freiermuth more as a receiving option.
  • He is observed wearing a shoulder harness on the right shoulder which typically assists with instability within the shoulder complex. Typically, those shoulder harnesses are used for labrum tears, AC joint sprains, or rotator cuff tears. They can also be used for pectoral tendon tears, though that does not appear to be the injury from what can be determined.
  • The recovery time as quoted by Freiermuth himself is four to six months.

Shoulder harness worn by Freiermuth.

Based on the information above, he either has a labrum tear or significant AC joint sprain. Typically, labrum repairs are more common to require surgery, but AC joint sprains can be played through with greater ease and require less surgical intervention. Both also have similar rehab timelines following surgery. To understand the anatomy of the shoulder, continue reading below.

The shoulder labrum

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.

Shoulder labral 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 with similar mechanisms of injury that the labrum could tear. 

Freiermuth did not appear to miss anytime against Ohio State and only missed extended time against Nebraska. He went down hard to the ground on his right shoulder with 10:14 in the 3rd quarter and did not return for nearly an entire quarter. 

Functional limitations and rehab

It appears more likely that Freiermuth suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder due to likely repeated subluxations and the above-stated rehab timeline with a torn labrum. Had he suffered the AC joint sprain with a severity that required surgery, he would have had an incredibly difficult time to block at all and catch passes over his head which he did fairly regularly in the following games. 

It’s possible that he subluxed his shoulder against Ohio State and then proceeded to sublux it further in the following games before suffering a bigger hit to the right shoulder against Nebraska. Reports did indicate that he continued to play through pain during the next two games. Despite the injury, he still managed to haul in 13 receptions for 204 yards which were more than his first two games of the season.

After four games, the Nittany Lions were 0-4, eventually going to 0-5 before finishing 4-5 to complete the abridged season. Freiermuth likely figured that he was going to declare and with the injury, getting a head start on the recovery would only help his draft stock. 

To further solidify that he suffered a labrum tear, he has pictures on social media that show him working out including throwing overhead, catching, lifting, and other activities that would be possible to perform following a labral repair surgery at that point roughly 12 weeks out as compared to say a rotator cuff or AC joint reconstruction.

To note, a discussion between the physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon can adjust rehab protocol timelines as necessary, but protocols are generally similar due to the healing required for structural stability cannot typically be sped up to progress rehab goals.

Long-term outlook

If Freiermuth did indeed require a repair to his labrum, there is a 13-26% chance he could re-tear the area. However, if he does re-tear, this is something that he could play with a harness until he could address it at a later date. We are starting to see players make business decisions regarding their health and play with teammate LB Micah Parsons already opting out the entire year. I believe this is what Freiermuth did and I don’t blame him at all. He should also be fully healthy by the time training camp starts in late July.

There is research to support those collegiate players who miss 2.5 +/- 4.0 games are more likely to be drafted in the NFL than those missing 3.3 +/- 4.9 games are more likely to be undrafted. While he does fall into the latter picture, missing five games was more of the business side of football rather than missing purely due to injury. The same study also stated that games missed in college were a reliable indicator of ultimately being drafted in the NFL. There are other studies that suggest that prior shoulder instability does shorten career length and games played, however, this was only significantly significant in linebackers and linemen.

By the time Penn State’s Pro Day on March 25 comes around, Freiermuth will be four months removed from surgery and should be able to perform nearly every NFL Scouting Combine drill with the exception of the bench press. It’s not that he couldn’t press, but he would likely not be able to perform at 100 percent considering the time off rehabbing and the nature of the injury.

NFL injury impact

Looking at the entire picture for Freiermuth, this injury shouldn’t greatly affect his draft stock regardless of the actual injury. Some teams may grade him lower given the injury, however, this appears to be a minor concern overall. 

This injury also shouldn’t impact his ability to produce at the next level as this appears to be the only publicly known injury that he has missed extended time. Finally, add in the fact that tight ends typically take two to three years to develop at the NFL level, he will have the runway to develop without having to immediately show his worth unlike the running back, wide receiver, or quarterback position, potentially exposing his body to further injury immediately.

He shows late Round 1 potential, but given the shoulder injury, that may drop his stock to Day 2 where I believe he really should be drafted. I could really see him going in the second round similar to his former teammate, now Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki.

Any team looking to draft him should do so without hesitation and could be getting a Round 1 talent at a discount to add a receiving threat to an already potent offense. I like his chances to be an excellent weapon for a team to take their game to the next level.

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