The Denver Broncos take the field for the second time in the 2014 NFL preseason on Sunday, as they represent the league in one of just two games. Peyton Manning and co. will take it to the San Francisco 49ers (who they will also face again later in the regular season) in an effort to show off a pristine offense for the second week in a row.
It’s a challenging matchup to say the very least, while we’ll get another chance to learn more about Denver on both sides of the ball. Some position battles could start to get cleared up, while whether or not the Broncos’ depth at certain positions could become a factor could also be unveiled. Just how deep this team truly is could come to light, as well.
The 49ers are a bit undermanned due to injuries and suspension, but they still pose quite a threat. Both teams will likely be deploying vanilla schemes still to protect themselves for when they face later in the year, but this preseason battle shouldn’t be considered completely meaningless. Frankly, only the score can be dismissed.
In an otherwise pointless game, there are some things we can probably tune in to check out. Let’s break down the top five reasons to monitor Denver’s preseason battle with the 49ers on Sunday:
Peyton Manning, Duh
We already got a taste of what the 38-year old Manning looks like heading into 2014, as he was very much on top of his game in Denver’s first preseason game. In fact, he hit on nine of 12 passes against a stout Seattle Seahawks. Yes, those Seahawks.
Manning will aim to come out and have a few clean series, if not a full quarter or longer, against another tough matchup. A lot has been made about Denver’s soft regular season schedule of a year ago and a would-be tough schedule for 2014. With a second straight solid showing against an elite defense, Manning and co. could alleviate some concerns.
That could ease the minds of Broncos fans hoping for a return trip to the Super Bowl, but specifically for fantasy football league managers, an on point Manning makes it easier to select him early in fantasy football drafts.
Emmanuel Sanders vs. Cody Latimer
Eric Decker is gone and left behind Denver’s number two receiver spot. Wes Welker and Julius Thomas should both see extra targets with Decker gone, but he served a role as a down field threat, and was also a huge factor in the red-zone over the past two years. While Sanders and Latimer aren’t about to turn into touchdown machines over night, but players have elite athleticism and enormous upside in this offense.
This is the first year for both of them, while Sanders is the veteran with a little more steadiness to his game at the moment. Fantasy owners looking to see which of these two Broncos receivers is worth drafting will want to pay attention to both of their roles and production on Sunday night.
Denver’s Running Backs
Montee Ball is the clear-cut starter in Denver’s backfield, and thanks to a recent appendectomy, may not see any preseason action. Head coach John Fox suggested the team “doesn’t need to see” Ball in meaningless games to know he is their main guy, though, which leaves the next three weeks just to weed out the undeserving talent at running back in Denver.
Ronnie Hillman is in the lead for top services behind Ball, with C.J. Anderson close behind. Hillman has serious weekly Flex value if he locks up the top backup gig, thanks to the offense and his own explosiveness. He showed well last week and could really improve his stock with a nice showing against a tough 49ers front line.
Speaking of running backs, we should move away from the Broncos for just a second to remind everyone that Frank Gore is over 30 years old and isn’t the only running back in San Francisco. That means fantasy owners need to either stash Hyde late in drafts or grab him as a handcuff if they take Gore earlier. Hyde is a bruiser with serious upside and looked great in his pro debut last week. Denver has a solid run defense, so how he fares this week could go a long way in projecting his role. He’s currently slated to be Gore’s top backup.
We should continue to get good looks at some of Denver’s key offseason additions on defense. The likes of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib offer a ton of optimism for Denver to get better on defense in general, but also could help their fantasy team defense rise up the ranks, as well.
It’s also going to be interesting to monitor their linebackers starting Sunday, as they’ve experienced loss at the position due to free agency and injuries.