The significant difference between the ESPNU 150 wide receivers in the Class of 2012 and other recent groups at the position is speed.
This class doesn't have a lot of tall possession types. In fact, only two of the top-10 receivers are 6-foot-2 or taller.
What the class does have is good high-end speed in the top 10 and one gem atop the group. Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest is one of only four wide receivers to crack the overall top 10 in the past five years, joining Julio Jones and A.J. Green (class of 2008) and USC's Robert Woods (2010).
There are 19 receivers in the ESPNU 150, which is three fewer than last year but not a significant drop-off statistically from the past five years, which shows the average class to have 20.25 WRs in the 150.
Green-Beckham is the only five-star prospect in the group, with a rating of 86. Cayleb Jones, No. 2 at the position and No. 20 overall, had a grade of 83. Five wide receivers have a grade of 82, five are at 81 and seven are at 80.
Keep in mind that wide receivers are everywhere. It is the easiest position to find and one of the easiest to evaluate on film.
Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest)
When you talk to coaches about Green-Beckham, one statement that always seems to pop up is, "You should see him play basketball." Physically, Green-Beckham is the perfect chemistry experiment -- height, strength, long arms, soft hands, a good leaper, and he can win matchups on skill set alone. He is the closest thing to Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones we have seen in terms of pure tools. Against this level of competition he stands out dramatically, but we also see significant competitive intangibles that up his game against elite talent.
Cayleb Jones (Austin, Texas/S.F. Austin)
Jones is one of the faster big-bodied prospects in this class, but what we feel really stands out about him is his ability to make things happen after the catch. His initial quickness to elude in the open field and reach top speed quickly is very impressive for his size. He is smooth and fluid considering his height, and while he is a real mismatch downfield one-on-one in the deep passing game, it is his well-rounded set of tools that places him at No. 2.
Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast)
The fastest of these three prospects and one of the fastest in the entire class, Black displays some of the best zero-to-60 speed and overall change-of-direction skills this class has to offer. He lacks the physical prowess of some of today's bigger receivers, but in this day and age, in a game that is played in space offensively, Black not only stretches the field but also turns quick passes such as bubble screens and underneath routes into home runs.
Others to watch
• If Thomas Johnson (Dallas/Skyline) has a full healthy season, we would not be surprised to see him move into the top three prior to February. Texas WR Mike Davis of the 2010 class is a very favorable comparison, only Johnson isn't quite as tall. As a ball carrier out of the Wildcat or as a pass catcher, Johnson is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
• LSU commit Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely) possesses a terrific blend of size and athleticism along with deceptive speed as a long-field receiver. He is acrobatic and shows very good body control when contested one-on-one. We feel Johnson could develop into a fine red zone, jump-ball prospect for the next level.
• Dominique Wheeler (Crockett, Texas/Crockett) displays terrific acceleration ability both vertically and after the catch. He is not quite as big, but he has similar qualities to Cayleb Jones after the catch. He is a fine player with natural run instincts with the ball in his hands.
• One of the most explosive WRs in this class has to be Miami commit Angelo Jean-Louis (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central). Much like Chris Black, only bigger, Jean-Louis is terrific in the open field and shows separation speed and quickness to make big plays after the catch.
The rest of the pack
Oklahoma commit Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma City, Okla./Heritage Hall) could be this year's version of Ryan Broyles, only bigger (and just like Broyles, under the radar a bit). ... Durron Neal (St. Louis/De Smet Jesuit) is thickly built and ultra-athletic with excellent open-field run skills. ...Clemson commit Germone Hopper (Charlotte, N.C./Phillip O. Berry) is one of the better space players in this class and makes a lot of home run plays with the ball in his hands. ...
Notre Dame commit Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan) blends size, strength and deceptive speed, on top of being a red zone target. ... Texas Tech commit Reginald Davis (Tenaha, Texas/Tenaha) was virtually an unknown commodity a few months ago, but it wasn't long before his lightning-quick change-of-direction skills and speed drew significant interest. ... WR Darius Powe (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) has size and speed, and is one of the best WRs on the West Coast . ... Drae Bowles (Jackson, Tenn./Jackson Christian HS) is big and physical with really good quickness and big-play ability. ... What LaTroy Pittman (Citra, Fla./North Marion) lacks in speed he makes up for in size, strength and savvy, and he catches everything. ... Dwayne Stanford II (Cincinnati/Taft) is the ultimate red zone target with leaping ability, long arms and good body control. ... Derrick Woods could also be considered an ATH with his experience on defense. ... Malcolm Lewis (Miramar, Fla./Miramar) is shifty and explosive with very fluid route-running ability.... Another Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian prospect with high upside is Jordan Payton. Payton is not a burner, but he is smooth and shows the size and frame development to become a quality outside target.