Which NFL players can carry strong 2022 stretch runs into 2023? Nine candidates to watch

Last week, I examined an upward-trending aspect from a team in each NFL division with the thought of that end-of-season momentum potentially carrying into 2023. This study will follow the same concept, but this time with one player (or two) from each division.

Once again, I tried to refrain from the obvious trends.

What I found interesting was how four of the nine players I examined joined new teams this season through free agency or trades. So with them, it’s a combination of the player performing well late last season and moving to an even more favorable situation in 2023.

(Note: All stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise specified.)

Floyd performed at a top-flight level in Weeks 14-18 last season despite the Rams being out of the playoff picture. He produced a 17.7 percent pressure rate during that span, ranking 14th among 198 qualified defenders (min. 50 pass rush snaps in Weeks 14-18). Floyd tied for 13th with four sacks and ranked within the top 10 in pressures (23; eighth), hits (nine, eighth) and hurries (14, eighth).

It took a minute for the Bills to sign Floyd, who turns 31 in September, as he was one of several pass rushers lingering in free agency when he signed with Buffalo in June. The Bills left Von Miller on the PUP list and traded 2021 second-round pick Boogie Basham to the Giants on cutdown day. So there’s little doubt how much the Bills will lean on Lloyd and Buffalo’s capable group of pass rushers.


Bills signing Leonard Floyd to 1-year deal

Pickett, the Steelers’ 2022 first-round pick, ranked eighth among quarterbacks with an Expected-Points-Added-per-dropback rate of 0.10 in the final five weeks. That was well above his overall season rate of -0.02 (23rd), demonstrating the improvement Pickett made toward the end of his rookie season. Pickett’s EPA rate stood tall despite only an 81.4 passer rating (24th) and a 56.3 completion percentage (26th) in Weeks 14-18, meaning he was at his best in key moments.

Maybe it helped that Pickett leaned on Pickens, the team’s 2022 second-round pick. Pickens led all qualified NFL wide receivers (81 WRs) in EPA per target (0.89), EPA per reception (2.0) and average air yards per target (17.0). The rookie wideout snagged two of his four TD receptions in the final five weeks.

Pickett ended this preseason with a perfect 158.3 passer rating and Pickens has made his fair share of eye-popping catches during training camp and the preseason. This could be a big Year 2 for the duo.



Kenny Pickett caps perfect preseason, and more from Steelers’ rout of Falcons in finale

There is an argument that the Jags’ signing of Oluokun was one of the best moves of last year’s offseason.

He led the NFL with 184 total tackles and 128 solo tackles. Predictably, he shined in Weeks 14-18 as well. Oluokun ranked second in the league in “splash” plays with 20. Only the Ravens’ Roquan Smith (23 plays) tallied more in the span. He also ranked second with 56 total tackles and 36 solo tackles. To top it off, Oluokun picked up 27 total tackles in Jacksonville’s two postseason games.

Oluokun, 28, is only going into his fourth season as a full-time starter in the league. I’m smelling the Pro Bowl in his future with the Jaguars.



Jaguars’ Doug Pederson looking to build on last season’s success: ‘Our window is now’

I remember immediately thinking “Oh, that’s gooood!” when the Chiefs landed a deal with Taylor near the beginning of free agency.

The Jaguars’ 2019 second-round pick yielded a 3.3 percent pressure rate and one sack during Weeks 14-18. The average rate for tackles sat at 5.5 percent during that span so Taylor kept Trevor Lawrence well-protected. Taylor should do the same for Patrick Mahomes.

And even though this is more about the stretch run of last season, just one more set of numbers to prove Taylor’s significance and improvement. Taylor’s 2.5 percent pressure rate allowed last season ranked fourth among all tackles (left or right), continuing a trend of steady growth. Here’s a look at Taylor’s pressure rates over the past three seasons:

  • 2020: 8.0 percent (fifth worst among tackles)
  • 2021: 4.8 percent
  • 2022: 2.5 percent


In joining Chiefs, OT Jawaan Taylor and DL Charles Omenihu embracing new and bigger roles

You may not figure there was much highlight from Waller’s final few games with the Raiders in 2022, especially given Las Vegas flipped from Derek Carr to Jarrett Stidham in the last couple of weeks. So it took me off guard to find Waller among the top tight ends in Weeks 14-18, which probably helped spur the Giants’ interest in trading for him.

Waller ranked third among tight ends in EPA per target (0.56) and second in EPA per reception (1.4) in the span. He ranked first in yards per reception (17.8) and air yards per target (16.0). He hauled in two of his three TDs during the stretch as well. Given the Giants’ lack of pop at wide receiver, Waller should quickly become a favorite target for quarterback Daniel Jones.



Darren Waller gives the Giants what they lacked in the passing game

Moore’s overall body of work would likely have been enough for the Bears to ask for him in the trade involving the 2023 No. 1 pick. During an overall down year for Moore, however, he still played some of his best football in the final quarter of the season.

Moore ranked fourth among all qualified wide receivers with an EPA-per-reception rate of 1.8 and 12th with a 0.59 EPA-per-target rate. Moore ranked fourth in air yards per target (15.9). He also caught a touchdown each week from Weeks 15-17. Similar production will be more than welcomed by Bears quarterback Justin Fields.



Jahns: Justin Fields-DJ Moore connection will be a featured attraction at Bears camp

Atlanta wasn’t letting their Pro Bowl guard anywhere near free agency after the 2023 season. The Falcons inked Lindstrom to a contract extension which made him the highest-paid guard in the league. The final five weeks of last season weren’t necessary to seal the deal, but his play reinforced why the Falcons went on to reward one of the NFL’s better guards.

Lindstrom was one of two guards to allow a perfect 0.0 percent pressure rate through Weeks 14-18, joining the Chiefs’ Joe Thuney. That’s no pressures on 125 pass-blocking snaps for Lindstrom. The Falcons’ 2019 first-round pick noticeably improved in this phase from 2021 to 2022. Overall, Lindstrom yielded a 1.4 percent pressure rate, second among guards behind the Packers’ Elgton Jenkins. Lindstrom allowed a 5.0 percent pressure rate in 2021.



Falcons give G Chris Lindstrom record extension

Highlighting Woolen’s final stretch of last season points more toward how he maintained his level of excellent play throughout the entire season rather than hitting a rookie wall late in the year.

Woolen didn’t secure any of his six interceptions during Weeks 14-18, but he continued to slow down opposing quarterbacks. He allowed a 65.9 opposing passer rating in that span, via Pro Football Reference.

I’ll be curious to watch how much quarterbacks avoid targeting Woolen in 2023 after his stellar rookie campaign. Fellow starter Michael Jackson had a 75.1 opposing passer rating last season and Seattle drafted cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft.



The next Richard Sherman? Seahawks rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen is just getting started

(Photo: Joe Sargent / Getty Images)

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