When Dominic Raiola decides to hang it up for good and walk away from the NFL, the Detroit Lions will have a tough task in replacing their longtime center. Raiola has been with the team since 2001 after being drafted that same year in the second round. Drafting a top-rated prospect could be a possibility for the Lions to eventually replace 35-year old Raiola. .
Detroit spoke to a list of centers at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and according to Lion’s head coach Jim Caldwell, he was looking for a “smart, intelligent, tough, durable” center. A few prospects that come to mind that have all of the characteristics Caldwell wants are Travis Swanson of Arkansas, Weston Richburg of Colarado State and Marcus Martin of USC. All three are the top ranked centers in this year’s draft by CBSSports.com.
If the Lions end up drafting a center for the future, they won’t be playing him right away due to the fact that Raiola had one of his best career seasons in 2013. After taking a pay cut to remain with the Lions, Raiola was a vocal leader for the team’s young offensive line, which ended up becoming a strength for Detroit.
The situation with Raiola is similar to what the Lions had to go through with (now retired) veteran LT Jeff Backus. In hopes of replacing Backus with a talented and young prospect, Detroit drafted Riley Reiff with their first-round pick in 2013. After being used as a backup, Reiff has now become the LT of the future for the Lions. RG Larry Warford and RT LaAdrian Waddle also appear to be the go-to players in 2014 after having solid rookie seasons.
Raiola told reporters that he plans on playing for the Lions for two more seasons. If that happens, Detroit has no need for a starting center until Raiola’s retirement. That being said, there are question marks with the backup center position. With Dylan Gandy set to leave for free agency this off season, the Lions could draft a center in the middle rounds to eventually take over Raiola’s place as the starter.