San Francisco 49ers center Weston Richburg recovered from knee and quadricep surgery in time to start the regular season, and it didn’t take long for Richburg to show his value. When I was doing the “advanced box scores” to start the season, Richburg wasn’t beaten in pass protection in the first four games. Seriously. He had zero block blocks as a pass protector.
Richburg’s season was cut short yet again after suffering a season-ending injury against the Saints. Richburg finished the season giving up one sack and one quarterback hit in 13 games. We saw how effective his communication was on the field, and how much he was needed when Richburg wasn’t on the field. Unfortunately, we saw Richburg’s value show at the worst possible times. High snaps, not picking up stunts upfront, and blown blocks to an interior defensive lineman. These happened when Weston wasn’t on the field. It was rare if they happened in the 13 games with him on the field.
Age: 28 (he’ll turn 29 on July 9)
Experience: Six seasons
Richburg enters the third year of his five-year, $47.5 million contract he signed on March 14, 2018. This season is a prove-it year for Richburg. If he can’t stay healthy, the 49ers can release Weston and save $8.3 million against the cap, with only $3 million in dead money if they designate his release to post-June 1. Richburg’s salary is guaranteed for 2020. His cap number will be $4.3 million this year. That figure climbs to $11 million next year.
How he can improve in 2020
Richburg has no choice to stay on the field if he wants to continue his career in San Francisco. Staying healthy is the biggest area where Richburg can improve. Richburg played over 1,000 snaps in his first three seasons. He’s averaged 681 snaps in the past three seasons. Appearing in 13 games wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but the Niners are the real deal. The team is expected to be the NFC favorite in 2020. To make another Super Bowl run, Richburg’s health is imperative.
What to expect in 2020
Another area where Richburg can improve is as a run blocker. While he was flawless against the pass, he had a couple of games where he had multiple blown blocks against the run. It could be another slow start to the season with Richburg coming off an injury, so I’d expect him to struggle against the run early on again.
Once Richburg gets his legs under him, I’m also expecting him to return to being one of the best centers in the NFL. When healthy, Richburg has been one of the best centers in the league, but that needs to happen for an entire season. This year could be Richburg’s last chance as a Niner.