ATHENS ― After a brilliant season in which he helped Georgia to within a play of a national championship, Roquan Smith is heading to the NFL.
Smith announced his decision to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, which he said he agonized over, through UGA on Monday morning, just a little over four hours before the deadline. While the inside linebacker was considered a certain first-round pick, multiple sources said the Montezuma, Ga., native remained torn, and a statement he released reflected that.
“As you know this is somewhat of a crossroads for me,” Smith said. “I’ve had discussions with coaches and family and a lot of thought and prayer. The decision to leave is not easy but I know it is the right one. Georgia will always be my school and my home and I sincerely wish all the best to the coaches, staff, and players as they continue to reach higher goals in the years to come.”
Smith was a consensus first-team All-American, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (as chosen by the AP and coaches) and the Butkus Award winner. He leaves Georgia with a gaping hole on defense for 2018, but he also leaves having been an integral member of a team that won the SEC championship and the Rose Bowl, and took Alabama to overtime in the National Championship Game.
“Words cannot describe how much Roquan has meant to our program,” coach Kirby Smart said in a statement. “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.”
Smith was a top 50 prospect from Macon County High School in 2015, and he originally committed to UCLA. But he changed his mind quickly after the assistant coach who recruited him left for the Atlanta Falcons. He never signed a letter of intent, opting to simply enroll at UGA in June 2015. After playing mostly off the bench and special teams as a freshman, he became a starter in 2016 and never let go.
This makes two members of Georgia’s defense to enter the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson declared on Friday. Defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter and safety J.R. Reed have said they are staying, while junior cornerback Deandre Baker had yet to make an announcement as of noon Monday.
Smith’s full statement:
“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.
“I’m so grateful for my teammates who have always supported me every step of the way. And no thanks are enough for the coaches and staff who have provided the leadership, inspiration, and tireless hours in helping me develop as a player but also as a man. What we accomplished this year is only the beginning of what’s to come for this program. I’m proud to be a part of the foundation that Coach Smart is building on and his leadership and direction are going to bring many more great times and memories to the Bulldog Nation.
“As you know this is somewhat of a crossroads for me. I’ve had discussions with coaches and family and a lot of thought and prayer. The decision to leave is not easy but I know it is the right one. Georgia will always be my school and my home and I sincerely wish all the best to the coaches, staff, and players as they continue to reach higher goals in the years to come.”