The San Francisco 49ers defensive line has shown a lot of depth this preseason, and defensive tackles Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones are making a name for themselves in 2018.
Depth is something of a question mark for the San Francisco 49ers heading into 2018. But the Niners defensive line isn’t an area where head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. have to worry too much about a lack of quality backup options.
The 49ers may have lost their second preseason bout of the year, falling 16-13 to the Houston Texans last Saturday. Yet there were a number of standouts.
Day was tied for the team lead with five tackles on the night. And according to Pro Football Focus Insights (free subscription required), Day led all NFL interior defensive lineman with a 27.3 run-stop percentage on a minimum of 10 run snaps.
That’s pretty good. And Jones was even better.
Jones finished the night with three tackles, but that doesn’t tell the story. In the second half of the game, while being locked up in a block, Jones somehow got his arm out and punched the ball loose from Texans running back Lavon Coleman, which rookie linebacker Fred Warner recovered. It was one of two turnovers San Francisco generated on the night.
Jones’ 91.4 PFF grade was highest among all Niners on the night.
The 49ers grabbed Day off waiver in November of 2017 after the Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with their fourth-round selection from the 2016 NFL Draft. Jacksonville’s stacked defensive line meant there simply wasn’t enough room for Day on the roster.
All to the Niners’ benefit.
Day’s versatility makes him a unique commodity for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. While Day’s 6-foot-1, 294-pound frame makes him ideal for a 1- or 3-technique defensive lineman, he’s also more than capable lining up at the big end in San Francisco’s base defense. In certain situations, it wouldn’t be unheard of to see him line up at an end spot in sub packages either. He has flexibility there too.
And with the 49ers currently dealing with D-line injuries to presumed starters, Solomon Thomas (concussion) and Arik Armstead (hamstring), one might expect Day to see a lot of snaps between now and the regular season.
Jones, meanwhile, is primed to be the main backup to the likely starting nose tackle, Earl Mitchell. But Mitchell will turn 31 years old this September, and it’s interesting to note PFF listed Mitchell as the team’s biggest liability against the run entering 2018.
Perhaps Jones winds up taking over for Mitchell at some point this season.
Either way, it’s refreshing to know San Francisco has more than adequate depth up front. While the pass rush from the outside is still a concern, the Niners’ recent investments in their D-line have paid off nicely.
It’s an area of strength from which the 49ers can build, defensively, this upcoming season. And both Day and Jones figure to have prominent roles in that equation.