ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Linebacker Roquan Smith, the leader of a defense that led Georgia to the national championship game, is entering the NFL draft.
The decision by Smith, the Butkus Award winner, was expected. He enjoyed a strong junior season, which boosted his draft status.
Smith led Georgia with 137 tackles, 6½ sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Smith was a game-changer with his speed and instincts and is seen as a possible first-round draft pick.
Despite his high draft status, Smith said in a statement released Monday by Georgia that his decision was not easy. He said he made the decision following "discussions with coaches and family and a lot of thought and prayer."
“I think back to growing up in Macon County and all the family and community people of my hometown that provided so many opportunities. The teachers who educated me, the coaches who taught me how to play the games, and those who taught me how to play football all contributed to where I am today. And I can’t believe how fortunate I have been to be part of the Georgia Bulldog family these past three years. I owe so much to the Athletic Association, our academic staff, student services, and the University faculty and administration for the environment in which I’ve been able to grow," said Smith.
Coach Kirby Smart said in a statement he expects "great success" for Smith in the NFL.
“Words cannot describe how much Roquan has meant to our program. The accolades he has received are a testimony to his ability as a player. But he has also demonstrated on and off the field the qualities of a great leader who has commanded the respect of all his teammates as well as our coaching and support staffs. As the head coach, it’s been a privilege to see him develop as a student-athlete and inspirational leader who has made immeasurable contributions to our team and to the program we are building. While we will miss him, we wish him all the best and know that great success awaits him at the next level," said Smart.
Georgia (13-2) finished No. 2 in the final Top 25 following its 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in the national championship game.