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Fantasy football focus: Boldin tasked with developing Kaepernick's skill

Photo: Walter Iooss Jr./SI

Anquan Boldin had 65 catches for 921 receiving yards last season with the Ravens.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anquan Boldin helped Joe Flacco finally become a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. The San Francisco 49ers noticed, and now they want Boldin to help do the same with talented-but-raw Colin Kaepernick.

This is a signal to fantasy owners: Boldin's impact goes beyond his own numbers. With Boldin's help, Kaepernick and young receiver Michael Crabtree will surely begin producing higher numbers.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with guys like Kurt Warner, veteran quarterbacks that have been around the block," Boldin said during Q-Fest in Palm Beach, Fla., last Friday. "I'm more than happy to help guys come along in that process."

The NFL is a copy-cat league: If you can't beat 'em, you join 'em. That's what the 49ers had in mind when they traded for Boldin this winter.

"It was a shock for me," Boldin said of learning about the trade while on a charity trip to Senegal. "Once I stepped off the plane, I had a bunch of text messages saying, 'Congratulations on the trade to San Fran.'"

However, hold the congratulations until Boldin does for the 49ers what he did for Flacco and the Ravens. He made a young arm a true "quarterback" and helped build a championship. Kaepernick, more revered for his physical talents than his polish, is Boldin's new protégé -- one fantasy owners almost certainly are going to be drafting too early while hoping for immediate results.

"When I got to Baltimore, it was the same thing about Joe," Boldin said. "He was inexperienced. He was still young. I was brought in to help him develop as a quarterback. Anytime you have a young guy, that's your job as a receiver: To get on the same page with him, to help him develop."

Boldin doesn't expect this Kaepernick project to take long, however.

"He picks up football right away," Boldin said. "The thing he is not getting enough credit for is just his ability to be a quarterback. A lot of people look at his athletic ability, and they marvel at that, but they underestimate how good of a quarterback he is, how well he throws the ball.

"I think it is my job, and the other receivers and guys around him, to help him develop into the best quarterback he can be."

Boldin knows Kaepernick is already a one-man wrecking crew, and he intends to help him become the passer to balance the threat his legs already are. That is what fantasy owners need, just as much as the 49ers. Even if the scrambler is exciting, fantasy football's elite quarterbacks are still the pocket passers like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan.

"There are positives in both," Boldin said when asked he if preferred catching passes from a pocket passer to a scrambler. "Definitely, with a mobile quarterback, you have a guy who can make plays even when the defense has the right call. If you look at a guy like Kaepernick, even if the defense has played perfect, he can get outside the pocket.

"When he scrambles, people can come up and try to make a tackle, which leaves you one-on-one on the back end. That's definitely a big plus for us. You'll see a lot of big plays off of broken plays."

Boldin may no longer make a real dent for fantasy owners, but his biggest impact will be on Kaepernick and the equally talented-but-raw receiver, Crabtree. Boldin not only helped make Flacco the richest player in NFL history this winter, but he also has proven capable of cultivating young receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Torrey Smith.

If you don't want to jump on the Kaepernick bandwagon because of Boldin -- a slowed, but wily veteran -- maybe jump on Crabtree for a breakthrough, or Vernon Davis for a renaissance at tight end, perhaps?

If you don't like either of those as sleepers in fantasy, you have to at least admit that the Ravens' Smith will become one of the breakout fantasy players of the year, since Boldin is no longer Flacco's go-to receiver. Smith's rough two-year average of 50 catches for 850 yards and eight TDs is going to be fairly easy for him to top.

"The thing about Torrey is he had to learn under fire," Boldin said. "He did a great job learning under fire and he got even better last year, so he's ready to step into that [leading] role.

... with plenty of thanks to Boldin, the stud quarterback- and wide receiver-maker.

A couple of top contending teams are short on receivers right now -- namely Flacco and the Pats' Tom Brady -- making it pretty obvious these successful passers are going to be getting some reinforcements from the NFL Draft later this month. Flacco has already proven capable of turning a rookie receiver into a viable fantasy option, and we should have no doubt that whatever wideout lines up opposite Danny Amendola is going to be a deep threat in one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NFL.

Here are the top five wide receiver fantasy prospects to watch going into the draft:

1. WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee Volunteers (6-feet-2, 216 pounds) -- He is reportedly raw as a route-runner, but that's a coachable drawback. You can't teach his size and speed.

2. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia Mountaineers (5-9, 174) -- He doesn't have the size for a target, but he can become a game-breaker similar to Victor Cruz.

3. WR Keenan Allen, California Bears (6-2, 206) -- Because he's dealt with a PCL injury, he'll likely go to the Patriots or the Ravens. The best rookie fantasy receiver will be the one that winds up in the right situation.

4. WR Robert Woods, Southern California Trojans (6-1, 201) -- He might have moved himself into Round 1 with his 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Perhaps the Pats or Ravens consider him their field-stretcher.

5. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson Tigers (6-1, 214) -- He is not the biggest or fastest, but he was very productive, recording one of the best receiving seasons in ACC history (82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 TDs).

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