Looking at Sheldon Day’s impact and role on defense in 2017

With an interesting off-season on the horizon, Niners Live examines the role of newcomer defensive lineman Sheldon Day.


Meet Sheldon Day

Sheldon Day was drafted out of the University of Notre Dame by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. As a smaller 3-technique standing 6’1” and 293 lbs., Day was lost in an already deep Jaguars defensive line featuring bigger and more talented players ahead of him on the depth chart. Per Pro Football Focus, Day was said to be “very undersized, scheme limited, and was often seen on the ground or gasping for air after plays.” Based on his abrupt exit (Day was waived on November 18, 2017), the coaching staff agreed with the scouting report. Through his 22 games and limited snaps with the Jaguars, he recorded 11 tackles (seven solo), two sacks, and one pass defense.

Fresh start in San Francisco

Only two days after being waived by Jacksonville, Day was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco 49ers on November 20, 2017. The 49ers picked up the remaining years on Day’s original four-year contract with Jacksonville (per Sportrac.com). The 49ers worked out numerous players, most of which you’d need Google to identify this past season, especially along the defensive line. At one point, it seemed as if they had an ad on Craigslist to find defensive line talent. Can you blame them though? Aside from former first-round draft pick DeForest Buckner on interior defensive line, you couldn’t pay most fans to name another player as their presence had that little impact. Insert Sheldon Day.

All in a Day’s work

Day made his debut just shy of a week after joining the team in a week 12 matchup at home against the division rival Seattle Seahawks. Despite his first action resulting in a loss and only two tackles, Day helped produce consistent pressure from this defensive tackle position, helping flush Russell Wilson from the pocket quite regularly. Initially, just another underachiever per se and cut by teams, by seasons end, Day had made a name for himself. I could be wrong, but I’m sure some caught themselves saying, “Who is number 96 with the long hair? Whoever he is, that guy is out there balling and needs more snaps.” 

Day finished the 2017 season with 12 tackles, (8 solo), one sack, and one pass defense. While he didn’t stuff the stat sheet, he did provide consistent disruption and pressure along the interior defensive line. Though only playing six games with the 49ers, he posted solid grades. His final Pro Football Focus grades for 2017 are as follows: Overall 75.0, run defense 74.6, pass defense 67.8, (195 total snaps). His run defense grade was second highest on the team behind only DeForest Buckner (82.6) and his pass defense grade was the third highest behind Buckner 89.6, and Earl Mitchell 76.2.

The Days to come

Bottom line, the 49ers front four desperately needs an edge presence to produce some resemblance of a pass rush. Think about it, the addition of a bonafide edge threat and continued development of Solomon Thomas, DeForest Bucker, and now potentially Day, this pass rush has the potential to be dangerous. I’m not saying Day will solve all the pass rush problems, please don’t misconstrue my point. He and this unit still have growing to do, but Day was a nice under the radar addition to the interior defensive line and deserves a shot to do so in 2018. Great get off, high motor, and good with his hands. If he plays to potential, whomever the edge rusher is will see less resistance coming off the edge as the offensive line will need to potentially double team multiple defenders on the interior. Go Niners!

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus49ers.comESPN.comNFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Co-Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live and  Co-Author, Content Creator, EditorSequoia Sims.