ESPN's NFL Blog network has been looking at the players around which you would want to build a franchise. Mike Sando put together a list of 10 NFC West players that could fit such a group. Our man Patrick Willis finished second on the list and Joe Staley finished sixth. Larry Fitzgerald was on the top of the list. The only other 49er to get consideration was Justin Smith. However, Sando was looking more for pass rushers from the line, which is not exactly one of Smith's specialties.
Football Outsiders, in conjunction with this franchise look, came up with a few future franchise building blocks around the NFC. Their 5-player list (Insider protected) included LB Clifford Avril, WR Miles Austin, OT Sam Baker, QB Jason Campbell and our man OLB Parys Haralson:
Parys Haralson, LB, San Francisco 49ers
After years of attempting to switch to the 3-4 on a permanent basis, the Niners finally took the plunge after firing Mike Nolan after Week 7, moving Justin Smith to defensive end and opening up a starting job for Haralson, who started the final nine games of the year.
In those nine games, Haralson accrued 4.5 sacks and hurried the quarterback into scrambling or throwing the ball early eight additional times; over the course of the entire season, his eight sacks led the Niners, while his 14 hurries were second only to Smith. Those are similar totals to players such as Shaun Phillips, Terrell Suggs and Julian Peterson, all of whom make significantly more money and have a much bigger name than Haralson does. With a full season to play as the starter, a step forward from the 25-year-old Haralson would make him an ace edge rusher for a team that desperately needs one.
Haralson has shown steady improvement in the sacks category through his first three seasons in the league. What's particularly impressive about his numbers last season is the fact that he did not come close to playing the entire season as a full time player. Due to Mike Nolan's jacked up defense he was on and off the field for half the season. Finally, Mike Singletary took over and Haralson started to get into some kind of rhythm.
There is plenty to be intrigued about this season, and whatever the team can get from Haralson is high on that list. Will he crack double digits in sacks? While Haralson would be fine coming in behind Smith, if the group of Sopoaga/Balmer/McDonald/Evans/RJP can shore up the other side of the defensive line, I think we could see some great numbers from Haralson in 2009.