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NFL Draft process cranking up as January winds down

Jan. 29—The NFL playing season is not quite over, but the NFL Draft season has already started in earnest.

While the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs prepare to clash in Super Bowl LVIII, the rest of the league is already able to focus all its energy on acquiring more talent for next season and beyond.

Here are four things to know about the draft from a local, Bengals and Ohio State perspective:

1. Ohio State should have a player picked very early.

Marvin Harrison Jr. might be the first non-quarterback selected, and he might be the best player in the draft.

Aside from having the same name as a Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver (his father), Harrison is considered an elite prospect because of his combination of size, athleticism and polish.

He is No. 1 on the latest consensus draft board put together by The Athletic, and Pro Football Focus ranks him the No. 2 prospect behind USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

He is aiming to the fourth OSU receiver taken in the first round in the last three years, joining Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

The highest-drafted Ohio State receiver of all-time is Terry Glenn, who went No. 7 to the New England Patriots in 1996.

2. Harrison might be the only Buckeye taken in the first three rounds.

While Ohio State fans might not have as much to cheer about on draft night as usual, there is good reason for that: More than a handful of the best Buckeye draft prospects opted to return to school for one more year.

As such, Ohio State could have fewer than six players drafted for the first time since five heard their names in 2015.

Defensive lineman Mike Hall Jr. is widely considered the next-best prospect from Ohio State this year, and he is No. 111 on the PFF big board.

Next is tight end Cade Stover (112), linebacker Tommy Eichenberg (154), running back Miyan Williams (190), linebacker Steele Chambers (208) and safety Josh Proctor (228).

Hall and Proctor are both set to play in the Senior Bowl this weekend.

Eichenberg was invited to the Senior Bowl, but he is not on the roster, possibly because he is recovering from a late-season arm injury.

As for what might have been, Dane Brugler of The Athletic ranked had receiver Emeka Egbuka (20), defensive ends J.T. Tuimoloau (23) and Jack Sawyer (36) and cornerback Denzel Burke (37) in the top 40 in his midseason draft rankings.

3. The best bet for a draftee from the Miami Valley is Jared Verse.

A 6-4, 260-pound defensive end from Florida State, Verse graduated from Central Columbia High School in Pennsylvania, but FSU listed his hometown as Dayton, and Verse's X (formerly Twitter) profile proudly labels him, "Dayton-made."

During a Florida State game broadcast last fall, he also revealed a connection to Beavercreek when he identified Martha Homan at Shaw Elementary as a teacher who had made an impact on his life.

Verse burst onto the scene in 2022 after transferring from Albany and could have been drafted last year but chose to stay at FSU and was rewarded with an ACC championship.

In 21 games at Florida State, Verse logged 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, and he is ranked No. 15 on the PFF big board.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected Verse to go to the Rams with the 19th pick in his most recent mock draft while PFF and The Athletic both saw him going 14th to the Saints.

4. The Bengals could be in position to bolster the offensive line.

After signing Orlando Brown Jr. to play left tackle in free agency last season, the Bengals could need a new right tackle with Jonah Williams' rookie deal expiring.

In that case, there is good news: Five offensive linemen are ranked in the top 20 in The Athletic consensus big board with 12 in the top 50.

That includes Joe Alt of Notre Dame, Olu Fashanu of Penn State, Taliese Fuaga of Oregon State, JC Latham of Alabama and Amarius Mims of Georgia.

The Bengals pick 18th in the first round.