Where Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg Fit in Kyle Shanahan's Offense

The San Francisco 49ers made a pair of additions to the offense on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with running back Jerick McKinnon (four-year deal) and interior offensive lineman Weston Richburg (five-year deal).

Here’s the book on McKinnon (25 years old: He’s a former third-round pick (96th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings. He was used primarily as a change of pace back who got plenty of work as a pass catcher. McKinnon set career highs in 2017 with 570 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 421 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.

Richburg (26 years old) was a second-round pick (43rd overall) in 2014 to the New York Giants. He began his career at left guard before spending the last three seasons at center. He missed 12 games in 2017 but made 46 starts from 2014-16. Richburg was Pro Football Focus’ 10th-ranked offensive free agent. He surrendered just three pressures in four games last year (162 pass-blocking snaps). Richburg allowed only 48 pressures in his three previous seasons (2,112 pass-blocking snaps).

So where do they fit in for what Kyle Shanahan has planned in 2018?

Let’s start with McKinnon, who figures to be the 49ers starting running back next season. It’s evident that Shanahan is very keen on the versatile playmaker given the reported four-year, $30 million contract. There’s going to have to be an element of trust in Shanahan’s ability to evaluate specific traits that he wants in a running back. That’s because based on production alone, you’re likely going to find yourself frustrated and thinking that San Francisco massively overpaid. McKinnon has received at least 15 carries in just 11 career games. He’s topped 100 yards just twice.

However, when you start to look at his athletic profile, the deal makes far more sense. McKinnon posted a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, 32 reps on the bench, a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a 132-inch broad jump at the 2014 NFL Combine. All of his athletic metrics rank in at least the 90th percentile of all running backs. McKinnon has shown flashes of his explosiveness with two-career touchdown runs of at least 58 yards. He also posted three receptions of at least 30 yards in 2017.

McKinnon shared back in January that he was eager to find a larger role in 2018. This could be his chance to transition from a part-time player into a featured back.

“I want to be the guy,” McKinnon said to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. “I don't put in all the work in the offseason to come back and be in this role. I appreciate the role. It worked out well, but I want bigger and better things for myself.”

He’ll join fellow Georgia Southern alum Matt Breida as the focal points of the 49ers running game. Joe Williams and Raheem Mostert could also figure into the mix depending on their performances in training camp.

As for Richburg, he will have a great chance to be San Francisco’s starting center. The 49ers re-signed Daniel Kilgore this offseason and the two are likely to compete for the job. Should Richburg win the role, Kilgore could be an option to fill either guard spot. The same can be said the other way around as both players have experience at guard. Laken Tomlinson, Joshua Garnett and Zane Beadles will be the other candidates to compete for roles on the interior offensive line.

The biggest takeaway from these two moves is that although neither player is a household name, both were brought to San Francisco for a specific reason. Shanahan is one of the league’s best offensive minds and knows exactly what he’s looking for at each position. McKinnon and Richburg should be expected to play significant roles in 2018 and beyond.

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