Last year had to be extremely confusing for Sheldon Day.
In a Week 7 contest against the Colts, Day had one of the best, if not the best, performance of his young career. He had some really good pass rushes that day and ended up with his first sack of the 2017 season and at least one other hurry. He also knocked a pass down at the line of scrimmage and played well against the run. Things were starting to look up for the young defensive lineman heading into the Jaguars’ bye week after a slow start to the season.
Then Jacksonville turned around and traded for Marcell Dareus during that same bye week, and it turns out that game against Indy would be the last time Day would wear a Jaguars uniform for the rest of the season.
How you get fired on your day off, mannnn?
After a couple of weeks of not dressing him on game day, the Jags finally released Day after a Week 10 win over the Chargers.
Fortunately for Day, in the NFL, as in life, one team’s trash is another team’s treasure and he wasn’t out of work very long.
The 49ers claimed him off waivers a couple of days later during their off week.
It actually worked out pretty well for Day in the end because he wasn’t getting a ton of playing time in Jacksonville, anyway. The Jaguars had one of the most stacked defensive lines in the NFL, and with the addition of Dareus, there just weren’t enough game reps to go around.
The 49ers, on the other hand, had a lot of young talent, but also had a bunch of injuries on defense over the course of last season. They needed Day to come in and play as a backup right away, and play right away he did.
Whereas Day was more of “just” a 3-technique in Jacksonville, in San Fran he played quite a bit of nose tackle as well and did a damn good job. He is a bit undersized at 6’1 and listed at 294 pounds, but what he lacks in heft, Day compensates for with his effort and quickness.
He plays violently, particularly when he runs stunts laterally.
He has one of the more vicious rip moves I’ve seen in recent times, and he uses it almost as a weapon to free himself from blockers against the run and the pass.
(I’m a sucker for a good rip move if you’ve forgotten.)
Another thing that stood out to me was how good Day was last season with his hand placement and getting full extension with his arms to keep blockers off of him. He didn’t win every battle in the trenches, but that kind of top-notch technique at least gave him a chance on most plays. While I’m sure it initially sucked having been cut by the Jaguars, who ended up advancing all the way to the AFC Championship game, and going to the 49ers, that turn of events did give him the opportunity to showcase his talent he likely wouldn’t have had if he’d remained in Jacksonville last season.
Heading into this season, Day may have an outside chance of being the starting nose tackle if he can beat out the incumbent Earl Mitchell for the job. But even if he doesn’t start, Day will likely be the top backup behind both Mitchell and DeForest Buckner, who had a monster year last season as more of the 3-technique type position in that defense.
That means he should get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer on early downs, and that’s where I think he can have a major impact. I don’t think Day will necessarily be in a lot on third-and-long, but I can see him getting 5+ sacks just from winning mostly on early downs all season.
And considering what he went through last season, that would definitely qualify as a breakout season for him.
Confidence Level: Moderate