1 Vikings Defensive Lineman Is Turning Heads

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; A Minnesota Vikings helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have lost both preseason games so far, but some players still shined and showed that they deserve a certain role or a roster spot. Nick Muse is one of them. The tight end played well in both games and made a case for a fourth tight end spot on the team. NaJee Thompson’s special team heroics could earn him a position on the 53-man roster.

1 Vikings Defensive Lineman Is Turning Heads

1 Vikings Defensive Lineman Is Turning Heads
Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis (7) recovers his fumble next to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Day (52) during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023.

Among those winners is someone who hasn’t gotten the same kind of attention in Vikings (social) media, and that needs to change. Defensive lineman Sheldon Day has been great in the two preseason matchups.

In the couple of games, Day recorded four tackles and one sack, but a deeper dive into his statistics from Pro Football Focus shows his dominance. The company graded him as the best player on the team by a wide margin, followed by rookie Jordan Addison.

He also logged a team-high five quarterback pressures and four QB hurries. No other player has more than two. His pass-rush grade ranks him at the top of all defenders in the NFL. The sample size is still small, with only two games played, and he didn’t even play the full games, but it is intriguing nevertheless.

Oct 17, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Day (92) and middle linebacker Anthony Walker (4) run back to the bench during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports.

Day is a veteran in the NFL at the age of 29, and the Vikes are his fifth team. Coming out of Notre Dame in 2016, Day was a Jacksonville Jaguars fourth-round selection, a team with a dominant defense one year later. The defensive tackle had a rotational role on those teams before he was waived in November 2017, and the San Francisco 49ers claimed him.

He was a part of some more strong defensive units with the 49ers, a team he stayed with until the end of the 2019 season. His final game with the 49ers was the Super Bowl, and he logged 42 defensive snaps in the game that ultimately resulted in a loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

After the season, Day signed with the Colts in free agency but was once again waived in November of 2020. For the remainder of 2020 and 2021, Day was on Cleveland’s practice squad. He met Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in San Francisco and Cleveland.

Vikings Sign a New Sheldon
3 Dec 15, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Sheldon Day (96) celebrates after a sack during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports.

The Browns released Day in the preseason last year, and he was a free agent until the Vikings signed him to the practice squad in December. Now 29 years old, Day appeared in 67 regular season games for four different teams and also has the experience of three postseason contests. The statistics show seven sacks and 76 tackles in 1,420 defensive snaps.

Day’s excellent performances in the two preseason contests give him a shot to make the final 53-man roster, especially because the Vikings defensive line is suspect. Harrison Phillips, Dean Lowry, and Khyiris Tonga should have a roster spot secured.

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a tackle against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Behind those three guys, the position is wide open. James Lynch is on IR with a torn ACL. Rookie Jaquelin Roy is expected to have a roster spot. Esezi Otomewo has also played well. Jonathan Bullard was a starter last year, and Ross Blacklock was acquired via trade a year ago but failed to make a significant impact.

T.J. Smith appeared in a total of two games with the Vikings in the last two years. Undrafted rookies Junior Aho and Calvin Avery are long shots to make the roster. All those guys are roster bubble fellows, and the front office and the coaches must pick two or maybe three. It is a true mystery, but Day has outplayed all of them.

Day provides experience, and he played in two of the league’s best defenses in the last decade. His brilliant preseason tape and disruptive play opened the door for him to make the roster and contribute to the 2023 Vikings.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt