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9 players to watch against the Broncos

It’s unlikely we see Brock Purdy, but there are plenty of players who can earn a roster spot

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers will look to pick up that all-important first win of the preseason on Saturday against the Denver Broncos. Russell Wilson will return, but this time for the first time in the preseason, as 49ers fans will have to endure him again.

Let’s get this out of the way. We are all watching for the quarterback position, so I presume we know what Sam Darnold and Trey Lance are playing for, so I left them off this list. According to Kyle Shanahan, Brock Purdy and other starters might see a drive or two, but we can wait until after Saturday’s game to overreact to those 6-to- plays.

These are the nine players to watch on Saturday:

RB Jordan Mason

Elijah Mitchell (groin) still hasn’t returned to full practice as of Thursday, leaving some space for Mason or Tyrion Davis-Price to earn the second running back spot. Neither second-year running back stood out last week against Las Vegas, with the duo combining for 3.2 yards per attempt with neither particularly standing out. The only play from either that stood from the pair was when Mason dropped a screen pass from Trey Lance that could have gone for six. Mistakes like that can’t continue from Mason if he wants to see snaps in the regular season.

WR Ronnie Bell and WR Chris Conley

Bell played on 49 offensive snaps and Conley on 24 against the Raiders, with the two receivers seeing the two-highest targets. Danny Gray did return to practice on Thursday, adding another name to the mix, but Bell and Conley played themselves into the conversation for the fourth receiver spot. Bell and Conley will see plenty more snaps on Saturday against Denver with a chance to force Shanahan to carry six receivers.

TE Troy Fumagalli

Ross Dwelley finished with a couple more targets than Fumagalli, but the former Bronco finished with 30 yards on his two targets, catching both, and was the highest-graded player on the 49ers with a PFF offensive grade of 90.8. Cameron Latu continues to drop passes daily at practice and fumbled away his lone reception on Sunday. Shanahan has kept only three tight ends on the previous two initial 53-man rosters; Fumagalli could cement a spot with another solid performance against his former team.

OL Ilm Manning

Manning has gotten some buzz after not allowing a pressure on 17 pass-blocking snaps against the Raiders. Chris Foerster said that he doesn’t think Manning can play tackle long-term, so it could be possible that Manning sees some interior line snaps at some point in the 49er’s Saturday night tilt against Denver. The depth of the line was a talking point all week, with Manning being one of the few bright spots.

CB Isaiah Oliver

It took a week, but the nickel corner position went from feeling like it was Oliver’s to lose to a now-open competition. Oliver allowed a catch on all four passes that targeted him and allowed three first downs against the Raiders, including getting beat in the flats by Keelan Cole for a touchdown. Oliver must now perform with Deommodore Lenoir, Samuel Womack, and D’Shawn Jamison vying for the spot.

CB Ambry Thomas

The cornerback out of Michigan could be the biggest beneficiary of the nickel battle because if Lenoir wins that spot, Thomas could be across from Charvarius Ward in Week 1 against Pittsburgh. Thomas didn’t allow a reception on two targets with a pass breakup and tight coverage on a ball dropped by the intended receiver. He also paired with Kerry Hyder on a fourth down run stop when the game was tied in the second quarter.

K Jake Moody

Shanahan said Zane Gonzalez would get to kick on Saturday, which didn’t happen on Sunday when Moody missed his two attempts. So, does Moody even get the opportunity to kick? Is this a closer competition than initially thought? Is Shanahan just trying to put more pressure on the third-round selection? That’s a lot of questions to have at kicker.

KR/PR/CB D’Shawn Jamison

As mentioned above, Jamison has an outside shot of winning the nickel corner spot, but that’s not his only way onto the roster. While the box score says Jamison had one return for zero yards, the rookie had two called back by penalty, including what would have been a 38-yard return. Jamison looked explosive and decisive in his returns and outperformed Ronnie Bell on special teams against the Raiders.