The adult sheepshead is silvery to greenish-yellow with an olive back. There are five or six dark vertical crossbars along each side, which are most distinct in young individuals. The caudal and pectoral fins are greenish while the dorsal, anal, and ventral fins are dusky or black.
Other fish that are similar in appearance to the sheepshead include the black drum (Pogonias cromis) and Atlantic spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber). However, the black drum has barbels on the lower jaw and reaches a much larger adult size than the sheepshead. The Atlantic spadefish has a very short snout, a much rounder body shape and a larger soft dorsal and anal fin than the sheepshead. Additionally, the vertical bands on the sides of the black drum and Atlantic spadefish tend to fade with age much more so than the markings of the sheepshead.
Teeth of the sheepshead include well-defined incisors, molars, and grinders. At the front of the jaw are the incisor-like teeth. The molars are arranged in three rows in the upper jaw and two rows in the lower jaw. Heavy, strong teeth are necessary for crushing and grinding the shelled animals that are prey for this fish. Sheepshead lack tooth patches on the roof of the mouth.