For many fans, the NFL season ends when their teams are eliminated from playoff contention, and they are forced to find other things to devote their passion to.
Some look forward to the Pro Bowl—that is, if any of their favorite players were even invited. Some choose to cheer wholeheartedly against the teams they despise and root for all the postseason feel-good stories.
However, some fans take great pride when a player from their favorite franchise is gifted with an individual award. It can even become a sign of hope no matter how poorly the season turned out, especially in the case of the Rookie of the Year.
In 2010, Ndamukong Suh took home the Defensive Player of the Year award as the Detroit Lions won four in a row to end the season. The downtrodden franchise is now looking forward to the upcoming season.
A cornerback hasn't won the award since Charles Woodson. Suh broke the streak of linebackers who had hoarded the prize, so will another LB grab it in 2011, or will a defensive linemen steal the show?
Aldon Smith, LB
Smith will have to transition from DE to OLB in San Francisco, which will be a tough task due to the lockout. He's expected to start, but the shift may take some time.
J.J. Watt, DE
Watt will compete with Antonio Smith for the left end job in Houston, and it's a position battle he'll likely win. How quickly he adapts to the NFL and the Texans scheme will determine his DROY chances.
Ryan Kerrigan, LB
Kerrigan will also have to make the switch to linebacker in Washington, but he should make an immediate impact as a pass rusher opposite of Brian Orakpo.
Adrian Clayborn, DE and Da'Quan Bowers, DE
The Buccaneers stole both of these top ends in the first and second rounds, respectively, as they look to revamp their defensive line. Both players should develop into top pass rushers, and each of them have an outside shot at the DROY.
Cameron Jordan, DE
Jordan is a skilled run stopper, but what he lacks in pass rushing ability and injury questions will keep him far from the DROY.
Prince Amukamara, CB
Amukamara will probably begin the season as the Giants nickelback, however, he has the potential to become their No. 1 corner if he plays well enough.
Corey Liuget, DT
The Chargers drafte Liuget primarily for pass rushing, and he'll start as a rookie with a slim chance for DROY honors.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems Fairley will face in recording sacks throughout his rookie season will be outracing last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year, Ndamukong Suh, to the quarterback.
In all seriousness, Nick Fairley will instantly make the Lions defensive line one of the most frightening in the league, as he joins a three-man rotation with Suh and Corey Williams.
The Titans plan to use Akeem Ayers all over the field during his rookie season. He will contribute as both a strong-side linebacker and a pass rusher coming off the edge.
Ayers will certainly have the opportunity to make plays, and if he does, it will go a long way towards his Defensive Rookie of the Year chances.
Now that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be playing in Philly, Patrick Peterson will quickly become the Cardinals No. 1 cornerback.
He has the potential to immediately take over as an elite corner in the league, and his new team desperately needs him to do just that.
Peterson dropped several pounds over the offseason, which will increase his coverage ability, and Arizona may even use him as a return man.
Only time will tell if he can be the first cornerback to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award since 1998.
Marcell Dareus was one of the most athletic and versatile defensive linemen in this year's draft class. The Bills will start him at defensive end, but they'll set him loose inside on passing downs.
His ability to split double teams will bolster Buffalo's rush defense and also allow him to get to the quarterback. Dareus should have a great rookie season, but will it be DROY worthy?
Von Miller, the second pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, will be the opening day starter in Denver at the strong-side lineback position. He may even play a few downs at defensive end.
If Miller can get a good grasp on the Broncos defense early on, there won't be much stopping him from becoming the league's best defensive rookie.