The class of 2012 is coming into focus.
As with any recruiting class, its early identity -- and its ultimate identity -- is defined by the best it has to offer: the five-star prospects.
Two-plus weeks after National Singing Day 2011, 247Sports is ready to lay the foundation for the class of 2012 with the first release of five-star prospects.
After contentious debate, seven prospects emerged as unanimous five-star recruits at this early stage. This list will definitely grow, and it should be noted that there is no guarantee the prospects who appear here will keep their five-star rating throughout the process. However, the bar has been set for the class of 2012 with the following names:
OT/SDE Arik Armstead, Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove High School
In the class of 2011, it was Cyrus Kouandjio. In the class of 2010, it was Seantrel Henderson. In the class of 2009, it was DJ Fluker. And the list goes on. Every year, there seems to be one prospect who looks like an NFL offensive tackle in terms of frame, athleticism, talent and upside.
This year, that player is Armstead.
VIDEO: Armstead highlights
The towering athlete stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 280 pounds. He is far from maxed out physically, and he has incredible athleticism and explosiveness at that size. In fact, the one problem with comparing Armstead to the dominant tackles of past classes is that he could very well end up on the defensive side of the ball because of his rare versatility and athleticism.
Armstead is an early commitment to USC, where his brother Armond already plays.
DT Eddie Goldman, Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy
If scholarship offers were the most effective barometer for measuring ability, Goldman would likely have the highest rating in the country. It's probably easier to name the schools that haven't offered the 6-4, 305-pounder than the schools that have.
Goldman has emerged as one of the premiere defenders in the 2012 class. With good size on the defensive interior, he has a unique blend of power and quick, active feet that allow him to be a disruptive force.
VIDEO: Goldman highlights
While playing both ways on the high school level, Goldman picked up 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. His presence is felt on every play. On the college level, Goldman is undoubtedly a defensive lineman. While he prefers a 4-3 defense, he is one of the rare defenders who would be a good fit in any system.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest
Forget about his 6-6, 220-pound, NFL-esque frame. Forget about the 23 points-per-game ability that puts him among the top basketball prospects in the country for his class. Forget about the state champion 100-meter, triple jump and long jump titles that he claimed as a sophomore.
When you focus just on what Green-Beckham can do on a play-by-play basis, you see a five-star prospect.
VIDEO: Green-Beckham highlights
Green-Beckham is undoubtedly one of the top athletes in the country in any sport in the class of 2012. He is one of the nation's top football players, too. He has tremendous strength as a receiver because of his advanced size and frame. He has the ability to run away from defenders because of his elite speed. He even has soft hands and route-running ability. He has accumulated more than 2,300 receiving yards in the last two seasons.
From an ability standpoint, he's already ready for the college game.
DT/OT Jarron Jones, Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute
There's a simple reason why Jones' name doesn't yet ring a bell: He's from Rochester, N.Y.
Jones has an easier commute to Toronto than to New York City. But make no mistake, plenty of college coaches will brave the cold weather to see this giant of an athlete.
At 6-6 and 305 pounds, Jones has a body you can't teach and athleticism that's hard to find. A relative late-bloomer as a recruit, Jones has seen interest pick up steadily since November. He recently received scholarship offers from Tennessee and Florida State. One look at Jones' highlight tape, and it's hard to miss the potential on the screen.
VIDEO: Jones highlights
Those unfamiliar with the SEC were introduced to Alabama's Marcel Dareus with his amazing interception return for a touchdown against Texas on national television. Jones will make a similar first impression when his highlight film is distributed.
Whether he's an offensive tackle or a big interior defender, Jones will be a great catch for one lucky coach.
QB Gunner Kiel, Columbus (Ind.) East
"Where have all the quarterbacks gone?"
That has been a common question over the past two years. The 2010 and 2009 recruiting classes were strikingly short on elite depth at the position, but the quarterbacks are back in this recruiting cycle.
In what is shaping up to be a fantastic year for quarterbacks, Kiel gets the first nod as the best of the bunch. With good size, a strong arm, a quick release and good accuracy, Kiel has all of the tools.
But he also has the intangibles.
VIDEO: Kiel highlights
Kiel is a competitive, physical kid who can take a hit, deliver a hit and make plays with his feet if necessary. He exhibits the same kind of play-making ability that has been Andrew Luck's signature over the past two seasons at Stanford.
With elite quarterbacks like Zeke Pike, Jameis Winston, Connor Brewer and others in the class of 2012, Kiel will need all of those competitive juices to maintain the top spot.
OT Andrus Peat, Tempe (Ariz.) Centennial
For an offensive lineman, size is only the first part of the equation. Peat has that (6-6, 280), but what makes him special is the athleticism that accompanies his size.
For a big kid, Peat is extremely athletic getting downfield and on the run. He has great feet in pass protection, and is light-footed at his size. He is also explosive at the point of attack, showing the strength to issue a punch and the mindset to finish a block.
VIDEO: Peat highlights
Peat has plenty of pedigree to his credit, as well. Father Todd Peat Sr. is a seven-year NFL veteran and brother Todd Peat Jr. was one of the top prospects in the class of 2011 and signed with Nebraska.
It's a strong statement, but Andrus may be the best of the Peat bunch.
OT John Theus, Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles
A lineman can put up great numbers in the weight room and look like an All-American in unpadded drill work, but when it's all boiled down, football -- and particularly football in the trenches -- is about attitude.
Theus has the kind of nasty streak teams want when the ball is snapped. He's a throw-back kind of offensive lineman who is all-business on the field and mean in the best possible way.
VIDEO: Theus highlights
That's not to say Theus isn't a complete lineman. He has great size, is polished and athletic as a blocker and is just as effective in pass protection as in the run game.
His competitive fire separates Theus, and there is a strong competition igniting in his recruitment. Just about every major program in the country is after his signature.