Panthers vs. 49ers: Under the radar players to watch

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers head to San Francisco to face a dangerous and well coached 49ers team. Sunday's game is of vital importance for Cam Newton and Co. to prove they're more than a team that beats up on bad ones. Both sides have plenty to play for and these players can make an impact if they step up on Sunday.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation stopped by to help us look at two players from the 49ers who you might not know now, but who you should remember moving forward.

49ers offense

This week's under-the-radar offensive 49ers player is wide receiver Mario Manningham. The 49ers offense has been on a roll the last month as they have focused on their dynamic rushing attack. The passing game has been there, but it has focused almost exclusively on WR Anquan TE Vernon Davis. None of the other receivers have stepped up, leaving FB Bruce Miller as the team's third leading receiver this season.

Manningham has spent the first two months of the season on the PUP list while recovering from a torn ACL, suffered late last season. He was activated on Monday, and is expected to be back in the lineup this Sunday. Nobody is expecting monster numbers from him, but he could prove key in spreading out the Panthers secondary a little bit more.

49ers defense

The 49ers secondary has developed into a strength after many questioned it throughout the offseason. A key player in that group has been cornerback Tramaine Brock. While Brock is well known to 49ers fans, he is very much under the radar to the rest of the league. Brock competed with Nnamdi Asomugha for playing time in training camp, but an injury allowed Nnamdi to climb past Brock as the nickel back. Nnamdi in turned suffered an injury in Week 3, and Brock took back the nickel back role.

Brock has quickly developed into a strong cover corner. The fourth year player made the 49ers roster as a UDFA in 2010, and slowly worked his way into a significant special teams role. This year he has finally moved into the starting lineup, and he is tied with Eric Reid for the team lead in interceptions. He comes on the field when the 49ers go to three cornerbacks, with Carlos Rogers moving inside to cover the slot receiver.

Panthers offense

Many of Carolina's offensive players are known quantities. Obviously Cam Newton and Steve Smith aren't flying under the radar, and most football fans know about tight end Greg Olsen. Today we look at the rotund heart of the Panthers' ground game, Mike Tolbert.

Tolbert is known for his end zone dances and fat guy touchdowns, but he has quickly developed into one of the most important facets to the team's offense. His role this season has been relegated to short-yardage and goal line situations, but it's exactly what the team needed.

In the past these occasions would come down to Cam Newton being asked to do it all. Taking some of the pressure off his shoulders has freed the offense up, and it's certainly welcome to see the franchise quarterback not taking unnecessary hits when there's a perfectly capable bowling ball that can be plugged in.

Tolbert has three rushing touchdowns in the last four games, and there's a good chance the Panthers will turn to him again if they're on the goal line.

Panthers defense

This week's under the radar defensive player is a linebacker I feel is one of the most overlooked players in the league, Thomas Davis. Coming back from three ACL tears is no small feat, and after a successful return year in 2012 he's breaking out.

Davis is often overlooked on a defense with Luke Kuechly and a stout defensive line, but he's vitally important to the team's ability to stop edge rushing and derail tight ends -- both of which will be needed this week. He's in his 9th season and having the biggest impact of his career.

Sean McDermott is using Davis like a Swiss army knife, moving him around and being the spot player to handle a variety of different duties. He's responded this year with 61 tackles, three sacks, one interception and six passes defended. He's in for a tough task, but the Davis-on-Davis matchup between Thomas and Vernon will be one to watch.

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