Who will end up with No. 1 pick?

With back-to-back wins, an undefeated backup quarterback at the helm, and an inspired defense playing its best football of the year — the Indianapolis Colts are a win from playing themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. An Indianapolis win Sunday vs. the lowly Jaguars combined with a Rams loss to the 49ers would ensure that St. Louis — and not Indianapolis — owned the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.

For the thousands of Colts fans nationwide who have been wrestling with the “Luck or Manning” and “Luck and Manning” debates all season, there’s suddenly the possibility of not getting Luck at all. For the first time since Week 8, the thought of Luck ending up anywhere but Indy is a very real possibility. With a very winnable game over the Jaguars up ahead, Colts fans are faced with a nearly impossible question to answer: “Do we root for our team to lose?”

In 2007, the New York Jets finished a forgettable 4-12 campaign with a meaningless 13-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. A loss would have locked the Jets into the second pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, but the Week 17 victory bumped them up to the sixth overall selection. At second overall, the Jets could have gone a variety of ways — perhaps taking Matt Ryan, Darren McFadden, or Chris Long. With the sixth pick, they took Vernon Gholston.

Sure, the Jets ended up signing Brett Favre a few months later, and yes, they’d draft Mark Sanchez the following April. But Jets fans are always left wondering, “What if we lost that Week 17 game to the Chiefs? What if Matt Ryan was our quarterback?”

Will Colts fans be left pondering the same types of "What ifs?" if Indianapolis “wins” itself out of the first selection Sunday? Luck or Manning makes for a hell of a debate. “Do we root against our team?“ makes for an even better one.

The buzz around the league right now is over just how many picks Andrew Luck will be worth come draft time. When longtime personnel guru Gil Brandt, known as the “Godfather” of the NFL Draft, suggested Luck was worth three — yes, three — first-round picks earlier this season, people scoffed.

I think Gil was wrong in that assessment, though. I think Luck may be worth four or five first-round picks.


Let me explain.

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie quarterbacks are not the giant financial burden they once were. Cam Newton’s rookie contract, signed in August, was a 4-year, $22 million deal, with all monies guaranteed. Matt Stafford’s deal, signed just two years earlier, was for $56 million more. JaMarcus Russell, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan all inked deals similar to Stafford’s.

So what?

Well, the new CBA makes a player like Newton, or in this case Luck, even more valuable than he was already. It means you can draft a quarterback first overall and still make other personnel moves on your roster. It means you can draft a quarterback and not have to cut your veteran quarterback who’s already making big money. It means you can draft a Cam Newton and still sign DeAngelo Williams to a $44 million contract extension and shell out big bucks for James Anderson, too. It means you’re not crippled by the new "face of the franchise" because of absurd financial obligations.

However, if the Colts beat the Jaguars and the Rams fall to the 49ers on Sunday, the question won’t be “Luck or Manning?” or “How many picks is Andrew Luck worth?”

It’ll be exactly what Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon means to the Rams.

Sam Bradford’s regressed in 2011, his second year in the league, looking especially awful in a Monday night debacle vs. the Seahawks on national television. But Bradford, with that salary, isn’t going anywhere. This makes Andrew Luck irrelevant for the Rams’ 2012 roster.

So, would St. Louis put the rights to Luck on the open market and load up on future draft picks? Or would the Rams keep the first pick and finally give Bradford a No. 1 receiver to throw to?

The latter possibility hasn’t even been considered, but it should be.

Blackmon is a star. Compared to everyone from Terrell Owens to Dez Bryant, the electric junior has Calvin Johnson-like upside. After the season A.J. Green had in Cincinnati, you can make the argument that a bona fide No. 1 wideout is nearly as valuable in the new-age, pass-happy NFL as a franchise quarterback. Look down the list of young, successful quarterbacks and each one has a star lining up at receiver for them to grow old with:

Matt Stafford has Calvin Johnson, Matt Ryan has both Roddy White and Julio Jones, Andy Dalton has A.J. Green, Cameron Newton has Steve Smith. Now, look at the young quarterbacks who are struggling: Colt McCoy has no one in Cleveland, Blaine Gabbert has no one in Jacksonville and Christian Ponder doesn’t have a true No. 1, either.

Could Blackmon elevate Bradford’s game to new heights? Could he be just what the golden armed 2010 Rookie of the Year needs? It’s quite possible. Maybe Blackmon — and not three or four or five first-round picks — is what the Rams need.

So, the question in St. Louis isn’t really “Bradford or Luck?” It’s “What’s Justin Blackmon worth to the Rams?” He won’t escape the top three picks in April’s draft and there’s no other wideout talent like him in the college game. Some scouts grade Blackmon in the same range they graded Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

It’s some foregone conclusion that the Rams will trade the first pick in the draft to the Redskins, Dolphins, Browns or some other quarterback-hungry suitor for a king’s ransom. And in the Rams’ case  — a roster decimated by injuries and years of questionable draft selections — five future first-round picks might be the move at first overall.

But maybe — and no one’s even considering the possibility at this point — it’s sitting tight and taking the 2012 NFL Draft’s other can’t miss prospect, Justin Blackmon, instead.

Either way, Sunday’s Jaguars-Colts and Rams-49ers games will be worth watching. Two franchises’ respective long-term futures hang in the balance.

After a year spent tracking the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes on a weekly basis, it’s only fitting that it’d end with Kellen Clemens and Dan Orlovsky — two career journeymen — as the men in control of the outcomes.