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2022 NFL Draft: Buffalo Bills LB Terrel Bernard injury analysis

Bernard missed 17 games over his collegiate career with multiple injuries

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big 12 Championship Game - Oklahoma State v Baylor Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills stayed put, selecting Baylor LB Terrel Bernard with the 89th pick Friday night.

After five seasons with the Bears, Bernard comes to Buffalo with a ton of experience but a rather extensive injury history including foot, shoulder, and knee injuries. He appeared in 45 games over his career in Waco, but those injuries cost him a total of 17 games—a notable red flag in predicting NFL success.

Below are all of Terrel Bernard’s publicly known injuries along with a detailed breakdown.

Terrel Bernard Injury History

2017Right foot fracture, required surgery, season-ending, missed tenbgames; played in two games before the injury.

2018 – Missed two games late in the season (Texas Tech, TCU). There are no records that he suffered an injury, but he did not play in these games; played in 11 games.

2019 – Played in all 14 games, suffered a broken right hand in November that required surgery and did not miss any games.

2020Left shoulder injury resulting in shoulder dislocation, labrum tear, humeral avulsion of the glenohumeral ligament, glenoid fracture, season-ending injury; missed four games, appeared in five games.

2021Meniscus tear, possibly left knee, required arthroscopic knee surgery; missed one game.

Right Foot fracture

Bernard appeared in two games of his true freshman season before suffering a foot fracture, ending his season. He suffered a right foot fracture in practice that required surgery, ending his season. It’s not clear what bone was broken or how he broke it in practice, which could shed light on any concerns.

Right-Hand fracture

Dane Brugler of The Athletic noted Bernard’s right-hand fracture in his 2022 NFL Draft Guide, “The Beast,” published this past April. The injury occurred in November of that season according to Brugler with game film suggesting he broke his hand against TCU on November 9.

The only clue that I could find to support this injury were pictures from the November 16 game against Oklahoma and the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma in 2019. Visible is his right hand in a club, confirming the injury.

(Brandon Wade / AP)
Getty Images

Left Shoulder injury

Midway through the season against Iowa State in 2020, Bernard suffered a very complex shoulder injury as noted above. However, I will simplify the explanation of the injury. So what he did was dislocate his shoulder, but during that dislocation, he suffered a labrum tear and ripped a piece of bone away from the bottom portion of the glenoid when the glenohumeral ligament tore. In addition, he suffered a glenoid fracture. Based on the wording from Barnard himself below, it’s not clear whether the glenoid had additional fractures or if the avulsion was the fracture he is referring to in the post.

These injuries occur as a result of forced hyperabduction and external rotation, so think about the arm up overhead and shoulder turned outward.

Amazingly, he returned to finish the game with a shoulder harness. This also confirmed the left-sided injury as seen in the game link here.

He required surgery to repair the damage and was able to return the next season fully healthy.

Meniscus tear

Despite all of these injuries, Bernard was not finished as he suffered a knee injury in 2021 against Iowa State, missing the following week against Oklahoma State. The team feared he suffered a meniscus tear, which ultimately required arthroscopic surgery on his knee.

Based on the wording and the resulting surgery, it sounds like he had a meniscectomy to remove the small frayed piece of the torn meniscus. Reports do not indicate what side he injured, but this sideline photo of Bernard suggests that it was the left side after he injured the knee. He is on crutches with what looks to be most of his weight on his right side and his left leg back a little bit and his knee bent.

There is some speculation on my part, but most people don’t want to put their full weight through an injured knee, much less a freshly injured one.

Bills Injury Impact

The Buffalo Bills medically cleared Terrel Bernard. Just let that sink in. They medically cleared him despite everything you just read.

As you see above, that might not be all the injuries based on the two unaccounted games in 2018. Bernard was one player where the more you dug, the more you found.

Going in chronological order for concerns, the broken foot is up first. There aren’t a lot of details on the injury, but foot fractures generally do well upon returning. If it was a Lisfranc injury, defensive players tend to fare better than their offensive counterparts upon returning. If it was a Jones fracture, that also has been found to not affect performance as it relates to Bernard. Once a player got through a season removed from that injury, they had little chance for re-injury. There is a concern for post-traumatic arthritis based on the injury, but that case could be made for many general injuries.

The broken right hand was barely reported on other than in Dane Brugler’s draft guide at The Athletic and pictures only confirmed the injury. It’s impossible to state what bone he broke, but it’s possible that this was a metacarpal fracture, similar to what TE Dawson Knox dealt with last season. The research found in the Knox article states that players can have surgery and return quickly, especially if they were defensive players.

The left shoulder injury was quite extensive and required surgery to correct. It’s impressive that he returned to play in the same game, but that was a lot of damage. As a PT, I have treated shoulders with complex damage and they required a slow rehab process to ensure proper healing. Those are not the type of injuries that someone can rush through.

Labral tears at the NFL Combine are common and Bernard could be at an increased risk of re-tearing his labrum later on upwards of 26%. However, the recurrence rate for this specific injury is very rare, which is reassuring considering the damage.

Finally, the meniscus injury that required surgery could be concerning. Most surgeons prefer to repair the meniscus versus trimming out the tear. However, either the tear was small enough to shave out and return to the field sooner or Bernard knew that another season-ending injury would tank his draft stock. Getting back on the field sooner and playing as well as he did certainly helped his case.

According to the research, over a quarter of NFL Combine participants have had some type of meniscal injury, making it the second-most-common knee injury. There is a significant concern for further arthritis in the knee as isolated arthroscopic partial meniscectomies resulted in fewer games played and a shortened career.

Amazingly, there weren’t any soft tissue injuries such as hamstring or calf injuries, at least what could be found publicly reported.

The biggest takeaway from this analysis is durability. Bernard missed 17 games over his career at Baylor but showed a certain level of toughness to play through several of these injuries. His injury profile reminds me of Rodger Saffold, Taiwan Jones, and Mike Love. Every one of these players has played extensively in the NFL with the exception of Love, but he remains on the Bills' practice squad.

His draft profile states that he would be an excellent special teams player who could see time on defense as well. In order to reduce his exposure to injury, special teams would be a fine role for him with occasional snaps on defense as called upon. Taking him in the third round though seems pretty rich, but the team possibly viewed his skill set as a greater potential over his injury history. They also continue to take risks on players in the third round for the fifth year in a row.

I have strong reservations about his durability as Bernard enters the NFL. If he can acclimate his body early on, limit his snaps to special teams, and play in a reserve role on defense, then he could be a fine player. I hope he doesn’t get injured, I never want that, but if he begins to miss time due to injuries, there is plenty of information to support why his body may not withstand the rigors of playing in the NFL.