Why young, ascending DBs can't get cocky

Mel Kiper Jr., in updating his draft-day grades for NFL teams for this Insider piece, says Seattle Seahawks rookie fifth-round pick Richard Sherman has helped to make the Seattle secondary "one of the best in the NFL in a really short period."

2012 Top Seahawks Opposing QBs

This is true. Sherman quickly served notice he could become one of the NFL's top corners. Fellow corner Brandon Browner and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor also enjoyed strong seasons for Seattle.

Arizona also upgraded its secondary with cornerback Patrick Peterson. The 49ers added third-round corner Chris Culliver.

But before the NFC West's up-and-coming defensive backs get too cocky, they might want to check the 2012 list of opponents.

Every team in the division faces Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford next season. Seattle also draws Cam Newton. Arizona gets Matt Ryan and Michael Vick. The 49ers face Eli Manning and Drew Brees.

There will be plenty of opportunities for young NFC West defensive backs to prove their mettle -- and also to suffer through sophomore slumps.

In 2011, Seattle faced four quarterbacks outside the division who finished the season with more than 20 touchdown passes: Romo (31), Ryan (29), Manning (29) and Ben Roethlisberger (21). Injuries spared them from facing Jay Cutler or Vick, who failed to reach 20 touchdowns largely because they missed games.

The Seahawks are scheduled to face seven such quarterbacks outside the division in 2012, weighted heavily at the top: Rodgers (45), Stafford (41), Brady (39), Romo (31), Mark Sanchez (26), Ryan Fitzpatrick (24) and Newton (21).

Cutler could be healthy when the teams meet again in 2012. Sanchez and Fitzpatrick often struggled. Still, the top of that list is loaded.