Take a hypothetical, 'What if' trip with me to last off season.
The Chicago Bears had a number of needs they were looking to address in the NFL draft, and after going with defensive end Shea McClellin in the first round, and trading up for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the 2nd, they decided to bolster their offensive line in the 3rd.
With the 79th pick in the 3rd Round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select, James Brown, offensive tackle, Troy...
That's a good pick by Phil Emery, as it fills a need and can also be considered best player available.
ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. had Brown ranked #54 on his Big Board. His NFL Network contemporary, Mike Mayock, had Brown as a top 5 offensive tackle at one point, in fact most scouts were pegging Brown with a 3rd round grade, and a top 100 prospect.
In rookie mini camp Brown stood out in the drills and was working at both tackle and guard. There seems to be a lot of upside for the raw, but talented rookie.
He finally saw some extended in game action late in the year, playing guard in weeks 14-17. As can be expected with most young players, he struggled early, but he did improve as he received more playing time. From our Roster Turnover Series;
Overall PFF gave Brown a -6.4, but if you look at the 4 games that he saw expended action, you saw a young player improving. In weeks 14 and 15 he had a -9.8 grade, but in weeks 16 and 17 he rebounded to a +2.9.
I think it was a solid learning experience for the 3rd round draftee, and moving forward I think Bears fans can expect bigger things from James Brown.
Much of that above scenario was fabricated, as I'm sure most Bears fans remember that James Brown was an undrafted free agent, and the actual 3rd round pick in 2012 was safety Brandon Hardin.
But what if Brown was the 3rd round pick? Would your expectations for him moving into his second year be higher? They say a players biggest jump in play comes in his second season, so why can't Brown build off his 2012 play, and build off his expected work exclusively at guard this off season, and prepare himself to win the starting left guard job for the Chicago Bears?
Many scouts projected a move to guard for the 6'4" Brown, and his inexperience playing inside could have led to him dropping down draft boards. Then again, there were some rumors of Marijuana use, so that could have caused his drop as well.
Regardless of the reasons, scouts thought he was a high ceiling guy, and his decision to come to the o-line challenged Bears was the perfect choice for him. Brown impressed in off season workouts and in preseason, and the Bears took a calculated risk by cutting him, only to bring him back to the practice squad where they could work on his technique.
Brown remained in the starting lineup last year, even when veteran Chris Spencer returned from his injury. Even though that was under a different coaching regime, I think that bodes well for Brown.
There's always a chance the Bears draft a guard in the 1st round, Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina has been linked to the Bears in some mock drafts, but in others he's gone before #20. If the Bears don't snag one of the top 2 or 3 guards in the draft, I'm not sure if the lower rate dguard prospects will be able to come in and beat Brown out.
I'm excited to see how James Brown develops this year. I believe that if the Bears don't find a cheap veteran to come in and compete, or land a top rated guard prospect in the draft, that Brown has a very good shot to be the starting left guard in 2013.