The origins of Daron Payne’s best NFL season were far removed from the spotlight.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Washington Commanders’ defensive tackle focused on agility drills in his native Alabama this past offseason with instructors he’s known for years.

Payne, touted for his run defense, also sought insight from new sources on the art of pass rushing. An invitation to attend Von Miller’s pass rush summit in June with dozens of current and former players filled that desire.

“He was a man on a mission throughout the offseason,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.

The results have been eye-popping. Payne has already set personal bests with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. One more quarterback hit over the final five games would match his current high of 15.

These aren’t empty calorie numbers, either. The defense is the backbone of Washington’s surge into the NFC playoff picture. Payne and fellow interior disruptor Jonathan Allen — along with edge rusher Montez Sweat — are the driving forces for the group.