6 NFL Players On Offense Ending the 2022 Season on an Unexpected Hot Streak

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 28, 2022

6 NFL Players On Offense Ending the 2022 Season on an Unexpected Hot Streak

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    Jerick McKinnon
    Jerick McKinnonCooper Neill/Getty Images

    By the time December rolls around, NFL teams generally know which players will provide the most production. Three months of evidence shape that expectation, too.

    There are always late-season surprises, though.

    Injuries can create an opportunity, which has led to the unexpected breakout of one quarterback. Other players are known commodities who just didn't play as well early in the season.

    The context of a hot streak may be different, but the contributions are undeniable.

    While the choices here are subjective, the focus is on players who didn't produce much (or at all) to begin the 2022 season but have significantly raised their effectiveness in December.

Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Washington Commanders during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Brock Purdy opened the 2022 campaign as the San Francisco 49ers' third-string quarterback. He moved into the backup role after Trey Lance's season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, but Jimmy Garoppolo had a lock on the starting job. Only an injury would thrust Purdy into the lineup.

    Well, it happened. Garoppolo broke his right foot in Week 13 and out for at least the remainder of the regular season. San Francisco is Purdy's team for now.

    Purdy has responded to the challenge in a tremendous way, throwing two touchdowns in all four of his appearances since then. He's averaged 211.5 passing yards per game while helping the 49ers extend their winning streak to eight games and bring home an NFC West title.

    This level of production from a third-stringer is unique, memorable and highly unanticipated.

Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 24: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions looks to pass against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of the game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions struggled through the first eight weeks of the season. Goff had only 12 touchdowns and to nine turnovers as the Lions trudged to a 1-6 record.

    After that miserable start, both Goff and the Lions improved dramatically.

    Detroit has ripped off a 6-2 record with a pair of three-game winning streaks. Goff has tossed 14 touchdowns and committed only two giveaways in this stretch.

    Goff has been considered a candidate to be cut this offseason because the Lions can save more than $20 million by releasing him. That still might happen, especially if Detroit picks a quarterback early in the 2023 NFL draft.

    However, that decision is no longer quite as simple. Plus, if it happens, Goff has proved that he deserves another look elsewhere.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 25: Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (3) runs the ball for a touchdown during the NFL game between the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Rams on December 25, 2022, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Back in mid-October, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay said his team was trying to find a "fresh start" for running back Cam Akers. Once no deal transpired by the trade deadline, the Rams seemed likely to release him.

    Instead, the Rams have leaned on Akers more heavily, and he has flat-out excelled.

    Los Angeles surprisingly waived fellow tailback Darrell Henderson Jr. in late November and moved Akers into the featured role. He capitalized on the promotion with 350 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in December, capping the month with a three-score outing against the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day.

    Akers has quickly risen from an afterthought to the Rams' likely starter heading into 2023.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 24: Jerick McKinnon #1 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives past Myles Adams #95 of the Seattle Seahawks while scoring a receiving touchdown during the second quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Jerick McKinnon built a nice reputation as a versatile, low-volume back earlier in his career, but the Kansas City Chiefs didn't use him often last year. He managed only 25 touches in 13 regular-season appearances before he exploded with 48 touches for 315 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in three playoff games.

    McKinnon went right back into his previous low-volume role at the beginning of this season, though. Through 11 games, he had 149 rushing yards on 39 attempts—just 3.8 yards per carry—along with 29 catches for 238 yards and a score.

    But over the past month, he's evolved into a regular contributor for Kansas City.

    McKinnon's snap share has increased only slightly, yet he's rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown since the calendar flipped to December. He's added 20 receptions for 222 yards and five scores, including a touchdown in all four December outings.

    As the AFC West-winning Chiefs ready themselves for the playoffs, McKinnon has rapidly become a player of note on opposing scouting reports.

Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 22:  Evan Engram #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars carries the ball as Sauce Gardner #1 of the New York Jets defends during the game at MetLife Stadium on December 22, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram made himself some money in December.

    Last offseason, the Jaguars signed Engram to a one-year contract worth $9 million. If he didn't pan out, they wouldn't have done any long-term harm to their cap sheet.

    For the first three months of the season, Engram's eventual departure seemed like a foregone conclusion. He had only 37 receptions for 356 yards and one touchdown across his first 11 games.

    However, in four December games, the Ole Miss product has reeled in 31 passes for 367 yards and three scores. He's helped the Jacksonville Jaguars soar into first place in the AFC South.

    Engram has built a convincing argument for Jacksonville to re-sign him on a longer-term deal as a key target for second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. And if the Jaguars don't keep him, plenty of other teams should be interested in signing him this offseason.

Isaiah Hodgins, WR, New York Giants

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 24: Isaiah Hodgins #18 of the New York Giants warms up before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
    Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    Isaiah Hodgins has provided a much-needed spark to the New York Giants' passing attack since making his debut with them in Week 10.

    Between injury and poor performance, the Giants' receiving corps has struggled all year. Sterling Shepard and Wan'Dale Robinson are hurt, and once-prized free agent Kenny Golladay has become a non-factor.

    Hodgins, who arrived in New York with four career catches, has buoyed the Giants' playoff chase at the perfect moment.

    After tallying eight receptions for 101 yards in his first three appearances, he corralled 21 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns in four December games. He hauled in a career-high eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' last-second loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve.

    An exclusive rights free agent this offseason, Hodgins has played well enough that New York will likely prioritize re-signing him.