James Brown was rated by Mel Kiper Jr. as the 54th best prospect coming into the 2012 NFL draft. By Kiper's rankings that meant Brown should have been drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft. Many other draftnik sites saw Brown as a mid round prospect who should have been drafted as an offensive guard. Instead Brown wasn't drafted and he was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
During training camp and the preseason games, Brown played left tackle, then guard then right tackle. During most of the pre-season games Brown was at left tackle. After the four preseason games, Brown didn't make the 53-man roster out of training camp, and was relegated to the practice squad. He was only bumped up to the active roster after a combination of injuries and defections forced the Bears to bring him up.
From there Brown started four games at left guard, two games he played poorly before improving a bit over the final two games of the season. The 2012 NFL season proved a few things about Brown as a player, one he's not an NFL level offensive tackle and never should be asked to start at that position or be a back up unless it's an extremely urgent situation. Brown is an offensive guard going forward, but how good of an offensive guard can he be?
New Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has built a reputation on taking mid round offensive line prospects and turning them into high level NFL starters. In fact the Times-Picayune out of New Orleans speculated prior to the NFL draft that Brown was the ideal type of prospect that the Saints would target in the draft. Brown fits Kromer's wants and desires to a T, but I was unable to find any reports that officially or unofficially linked Kromer and the Saints to Brown prior to the 2012 NFL Draft.
While Brown does seem like an ideal prospect for Kromer to work with, there are some considerations that I'll mention again. Brown is a raw prospect who showed problems pulling and trying to operate out in space at the second level. At times he looked a little stiff and not athletic enough to deal with the speed of a defensive tackle lined up in his gap.
Is there potential to work with, with a prospect like Brown? Perhaps there is, but only the Bears' coaching staff can determine just how good Brown can be. Is he capable of being a starting offensive guard for the Bears next season? Probably not, unless he makes a giant leap forward over the next five months in mini-camp OTAs and training camp.
What makes Brown a wild card? The likelihood that the Bears have enough confidence in him and a mid round offensive guard selection that they are likely targeting to avoid taking a guard in the first round. The combination of Brown, Carimi and Slauson likely means that even if Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack are on the board at 20 the Bears will still likely trade down or draft another position all together. Couple this with Kromer's preference and reputation of mid round offensive guard prospects that he can develop and the odds seem even more unlikely that the Bears target the top two offensive guards in the 2013 NFL Draft.