Continuing our trend of looking ahead at the big picture, Niners Live takes the stage and presents the final edition in a three-part series. In part one, we brought you 49ers: Looking back on Earl Mitchell’s impact on defense and in part two we presented Looking at Sheldon Day’s impact and role on defense in 2017. Now, in this third installment, we make a case as to why the arrival of Sheldon Day could lead to the departure of Earl Mitchell.
Earl Mitchell’s 2017 Pro Football Grades: Overall grade 56.5, run def 41.8, pass rush 76.2. Mitchell finished the season with 33 total tackles (19 solo), three TFL, two sack and four pass defenses
Sheldon Day’s 2017 Pro Football Grades: Overall Grade 75.0, run def 74.6, pass rush 67.8 (second highest run grade for the interior line behind Deforest Buckner 82.6 and a third highest pass rush grade behind Buckner 89.6 and Mitchell 76.2) Day finished the season (six games) with 16 tackles, (eight solo), one sack, and one pass defense.
Though Mitchell played more than double the games as Day in 2017, his numbers are on pace to meet and even exceed the numbers Mitchell produced. In addition, Day graded out higher overall, and in run defense, than Mitchell did, and his pass rush grade was only nine points shy of Mitchell’s grade. Though Mitchell is the veteran, he has some competition in the younger and productive Day.
The abundance of depth and youth
The 49ers now have a number of younger options on the defensive line with Arik Armstead (who can also play inside) returning from injured reserve (IR), emergence of Day, the young and promising D.J. Jones, and Solomon Thomas (Overall grade 53.2, run def 79.3, pass rush 46.5) who can also play the three tech inside and be effective while doing so. It’s unclear if Thomas will make a home on the edge or inside, but his versatility to kick inside only further strengthens the case that Mitchell’s spot may be in jeopardy. Also, keep in mind that the 49ers will most likely look to add depth to the defensive line via free agency or the draft.
Important to note: Niners Live discussed the potential of D.J. Jones in Fearless Predictions: Why DT D.J. Jones will be a Key Cog on Defense.
If nothing else matters in this business called the NFL, it’s money and what effects the bottom line the most. One common concern of all 32 teams is where and how they can save money. Well, in this situation, it’s not rocket science in terms of contracts. Mitchell is currently signed to a 4 year, $16 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Meanwhile, Day is currently signed to a much more cap-friendly contract that carried over from his original contract of (four-years, $2,948,410 million) with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Day has a remaining balance owed to him of $630,000 and $720,000 in 2018 and 2019, respectively (via spotrac.com).
The bottom line
I don’t claim to be the smartest man in the world, or a general manager candidate, but what I am is pretty good with money and things that make sense. Between the 49ers looking to maximize their spending and move towards a youth movement, players like Earl Mitchell may be on the outside looking in. Not to mention, Day is familiar with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and knows his system already from their time in Jacksonville.
Now my job isn’t to convince you which player is best to keep on the roster, but more so to present you with enough credible information for you to make that decision for yourself. It’ll be interesting to see what direction the front office goes with the roster in 2018. As of now, Day is the younger, more cost-effective and versatile player as he can also play the one technique (nose tackle), as well. So, he can play defensive tackle and Mitchell’s position and save the team some money while doing so. It’s a no-brainer. Whatever their decision, this defense should be in prime position to compete in 2018. Go Niners!
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Co-Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live and Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims.