The forgotten man is playing the best football of his life, and people are starting to take notice.
Defensive tackle Seth Payne was widely considered to be on his way out of the lineup when the Jaguars made Marcus Stroud the team's first-round draft choice last spring. Four games into this season, Payne has not only maintained his starting job, he is establishing himself as a fixture in the Jaguars defense of the future.
Thursday night, Payne will line up next to Gary Walker against the Buffalo Bills, the team of Payne's upstate New York roots. Payne's opponent will be Bills guard Ruben Brown, one of the best interior blockers in the league.
"I'm never a guy to sacrifice responsibility for production. It's hard to shoot for production as a defensive tackle. You don't want to be a selfish player, but you can push the pocket," Payne says.
His personal statistics remain modest. He has a sack, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback pressures. But stats don't tell the story of Payne's performance. He is at his best when he's "holding the point," then coming off the block to stop the run. He's done that this season with more strength and quickness than anyone had seen in his previous four seasons with the Jaguars.
"I've got to improve my pass-rush. I'm playing with solid technique, but not making as much of an impact as I'd like," he said.
This was a year he had dedicated to becoming a better pass-rusher; to becoming a player of greater notice. Hardly anyone hasn't noticed the improvement in Payne's overall play. Even his coach, Tom Coughlin, has said the competition Stroud presented has made Payne a better player.
"Seth is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen," Jaguars guard Brad Meester said. "When we go one-on-one, he'll go as many times as he can.
"He's staying really low and being physical. He's doing a good job with his hands. He's got some great moves. He's continually on the rise and he's getting better and better," Meester added of the noticeable improvement in Payne over a year ago.
If his value was taken for granted last spring, it isn't now. All of a sudden, Payne is the best kind of player for the Jaguars, which is to say productive, durable and relatively inexpensive. The latter is most important for a team with salary cap problems.
"If you compare yourself to other guys in the locker room, you're going to have a warped perception of yourself. Every time I go (back to New York) I appreciate seeing my friends who have real jobs, or seeing my family's farm," he said.
"I would never want to burden myself with thinking about money while pursuing a childhood fantasy," Payne added.