No. 1: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert
There hasn’t been much of a quarterback battle the past week because of Colin Kaepernick’s sore throwing shoulder. Gabbert can take a commanding lead in their competition with a solid outing against Denver’s defense, the NFL’s best last year. It took Gabbert and the first-team offense three series to find their rhythm last week against Houston. They need to be sharper, sooner against the Broncos. Kaepernick, meanwhile, will try to play in next week’s game against the Packers.
No. 2: Outside linebacker Tank Carradine
He wasn’t perfect in the first preseason game last week against Houston, but Carradine was more disruptive than the player who started for the 49ers, Eli Harold. Carradine is the more powerful player and the better pass rusher. The question is whether he is dependable enough to be an every-down player at a position he only started learning this year. Carradine, quiet in his first three seasons with the 49ers, is in the final year of his contract and he is intent on making a splash before he becomes a free agent.
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No. 3: Tackle Trent Brown
He had a solid first game against the Texans and has been battling Super Bowl MVP Von Miller all week during joint practices with the Broncos. Those are essential snaps for a young player like Brown who simply needs experience. The 49ers’ faith in Brown was underscored this week when Anthony Davis, Brown’s chief competition to start at right tackle, spent a few snaps at guard with the first-string offense. Instead of replacing Brown, it might be that Davis ends up playing next to Brown.