EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Sometimes the best draft pick a team can make are the ones it doesn't. Friday's news that Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely for violation of the league's substance abuse policy would serve as a prime example of that old adage.
In the lead up to the 2012 NFL draft, it was no secret the Rams were searching for play makers, particularly a wide receiver who could give Sam Bradford the type of No. 1 target he hadn't had since he was drafted in 2010.
The Rams had already moved down in the draft from No. 2 to No. 6 after the big trade with the Washington Redskins, but still appeared poised to land a playmaker with that sixth pick. One way or another, the Rams were going to come out of the early rounds of the draft with a top receiver.
In the week leading up to the draft, the Rams even went so far as to go on a sort of wide receiver barnstorming tour, taking backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Tom Brandstater to visit top prospects such as Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Appalachian State's Brian Quick and, of course, Blackmon.
Blackmon had held steady as the top receiver prospect in the months leading up to the draft with the only real red flags stemming from off the field issues. But Blackmon had done enough in pre-draft workouts and interviews to solidify his spot as the top receiver and, really, the only one worth taking with the sixth pick in the draft.
When the draft finally began, the Rams sat calmly as Indianapolis plucked quarterback Andrew Luck, Washington grabbed quarterback Robert Griffin III, Cleveland snatched running back Trent Richardson and Minnesota grabbed offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
With Tampa Bay on the clock, it seemed almost certain that the Rams would have their pick from the receiver group, Blackmon included. Then, the news flashed that Jacksonville and Tampa Bay had struck a deal. Operating with the knowledge that the Rams would likely have strong interest in Blackmon, the Jaguars moved up to secure his services, surrendering a fourth-round pick to do so.
Then Yahoo! NFL reporter Mike Silver was in the Rams' draft room and reported that Rams coach Jeff Fisher "slammed his eyeglasses onto the table and uttered a one-syllable expletive."
With Blackmon and Richardson, the other player the Rams coveted in the top six, off the board, the Rams moved out of the draft slot, cutting a deal with Dallas to move down to No. 14 and pick up an extra second-round pick. The Rams turned that deal into LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, running back Isaiah Pead and offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins (acquired in another trade down with Dallas' second rounder).
There's no definitive proof that the Rams would have selected Blackmon had he fallen to them. They did covet Brockers but there is no doubt that if they were going to take a receiver at six, he was the only one they deemed worthy of that spot.
A season and a half later, there's ample evidence that Jacksonville leap frogging the Rams and taking away the option was a huge break for St. Louis. Brockers is an emerging force in the middle of the defensive line and considered one of the foundations of the team's defense. At receiver, the Rams ended up taking Quick with the first pick of the second round and Chris Givens in the fourth. Givens has been a solid contributor and though Quick is still developing, he's flashed potential to be a solid NFL receiver.
Pead and Watkins haven't worked out nearly as well but just having Brockers is clearly preferable to having a player who is suspended and dealing with issues beyond the football field.
Blackmon's suspension comes on the heels of a four-game suspension he served at the beginning of the season for a similar violation. He actually returned to face the Rams and posted five catches for 136 yards on Oct. 6.
On that day, it would have been understandable for the Rams and their fans to dream about what could have been had Blackmon dropped to them in the 2012 draft. On Friday, those dreams would have become a nightmare.