Last offseason, the 49ers decided to go ahead and make a few splash signings on offense to complement their franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. They added a weapon in running back Jerick McKinnon and a center in Weston Richburg.
San Francisco’s brain trust decided to push all its chips to the center of the table with Richburg, signing him to a lucrative five-year, $47.5 million contract last spring. While the former Giants’ offensive lineman only missed one game this season due to a knee injury suffered in Week 4, there was no doubt that it bothered him throughout the season.
The 49ers’ starting center was off to a hot start this season, performing well in the run-blocking department, but his play fell off after the injury. By the end of the season, Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the 32nd-best center in pass and run blocking. He also gave up the third-most pressures on the season.
It should be unsettling for the front office and coaching staff to see their highly paid offensive lineman struggle mightily in his first season with the team. Let’s break down some clips from Richburg’s season to see where his play was solid and where it could use some work.
In this first play against the Chiefs, Richburg holds off the opposing defensive lineman, allowing running back Alfred Morris to find a lane and gain eight yards. This play was pretty indicative of what Richburg’s play looked like earlier in the season.
Once again, the 49ers’ center holds off the pressure from the Cardinals’ defensive lineman, freeing a running lane for tailback Matt Breida — who gains 17 yards on the play. While Richburg gets pushed back, he does a fantastic job holding the block to the side, still allowing a clear path for Breida.
Later in the game against the Cardinals, Richburg makes a key mistake on third down, giving up a drive-killing sack. A delayed blitz by the Arizona linebacker and Richburg turns to block the wrong player, allowing the Cardinals’ defender to run and take quarterback C.J. Beathard down for a loss.
Now against the Packers, Beathard throws a 30-yard touchdown pass to wideout Marquise Goodwin, but these routes typically take a while to develop. Richburg holds up his block well, one-on-one and keeps the pressure out of the face of Beathard. One of the worst things for a quarterback is to see a rusher right up the middle and Richburg doesn’t allow that here.
Bad Richburg is back. Facing a dominant defensive line in the Rams’ front, Richburg gives up a tough pressure to lineman Ndamukong Suh, who doesn’t get the sack, but forces Beathard to adjust the pocket creating a strip sack and fumble for the Rams.
Another sack given up and even though it’s not Richburg’s man that’s credited with the sack, the offensive line doesn’t do a good job of blocking. The 49ers’ center gives up the pressure against Rams’ Aaron Donald, but it’s linebacker Cory Littleton that gets the sack and doesn’t get touched in the process.
The story was the same in the latter half of the season. Richburg’s knee injury continued to hold him back, as he gives up the pressure and sack against Donald. He gets pushed right back into Beathard’s lap, not giving the 49ers’ quarterback a chance to throw the pass.
It was announced on Thursday that Richburg would be missing the entire offseason program following surgery on his injured knee and a quad issue. That should worry the 49ers’ coaching staff a little bit, but hopefully with the right health, 2019 turns out better for one of San Francisco’s expensive free-agent signees.