Already, the 49ers have been very active in free agency, bringing in center Weston Richburg from the Giants, cornerback Richard Sherman from the Seahawks and running back Jerick McKinnon from the Vikings.
Though Sherman and McKinnon will get most of the attention in 2018, Richburg’s contributions could turn out to be the biggest. Richburg immediately makes the offensive line better – with the draft still to come. And, the analytic website Pro Football Focus indicated Richburg’s addition is an upgrade over Daniel Kilgore.
“(Richburg) … is one of the league’s best when healthy, especially if he gets back to his 2015 form that saw him grade” as one of the NFL’s best, said PFF.
Plus, the former Giants standout gives 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan a very mobile, athletic center, a position Shanahan believes is a key to how effective his offense can be, noted Joe Fann, who writes for 49ers.com.
When Shanahan was offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, the team brought in Pro Bowl center Alex Mack from the Browns, where Shanahan previously had coached. Mack, perhaps the NFL’s best center, took the offensive line’s performance up a notch with the way he led the unit and was able to move and block not just at the line of scrimmage, but outside the box and downfield.
“When you have a center of the level of Alex or Weston, it changes a lot of things, things that people don’t totally realize,” Shanahan told Fann. “Sometimes you have to get in certain personnel groupings to help someone have an angle to a Mike linebacker (strong-side inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense) so you can help your center out with the guard. Sometimes you go into a one-back (formation) and now the Will (weak-side inside linebacker) has to walk outside the box and the angles to the Mike aren’t as good, but you’ve got a center who can get there on his own and doesn’t need the help.
“It allows you to do a bunch of different stuff. It puts more pressure on the center. It puts versatility in everything you can do, not just with the center but what your guards and tackles do. It helps solidify the entire O-line. That’s usually where it starts. There are a lot of good players, but when you have a difference-maker at that position, I’ve found in my career that it’s been a lot easier to run an offense.”
Richburg, who is going into his fifth NFL season, is just 26 years old. He graded as a strong blocker in 2015 and 2016 with the Giants before an injury limited him to just four games in 2017.