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Andre Smith has declared for the NFL Draft

The junior middle linebacker has decided to take his game to the next level.

NCAA Football: California at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Junior middle linebacker Andre Smith announced via Twitter on Sunday that he will forego his senior year of college and enter the NFL Draft. The news is somewhat surprising, since Smith missed the majority of his junior season with a knee injury and didn’t have the opportunity to put together a ton of tape, but an impressive sophomore campaign and beginning to his junior year have certainly gotten him some national recognition. Before the beginning of the season, ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper ranked him as the 4th-best draft-eligible underclassman at his position, and Tony Pauline of had him ranked as a 4th-5th rounder before the season began, with this to say about him:

Junior linebacker Andre Smith is another who falls short for the measuring tape but displays himself to be a consistent, three-down defender. He stacks well against the run, shows a great head for the ball and holds his own in coverage.

Before his injury, Smith had two excellent games against California and Louisville (he was injured late in the Louisville game), with double-digit tackles in both games and a memorable interception and 74-yard return against California. The game against Louisville will be important to NFL scouts, as it was one of his first games against NFL-worthy talent where he produced at a high level, an ability he needed to prove after relatively quiet games against similarly talented teams such as Miami, Florida State, Georgia, and Stanford. In addition to his athletic testing, the Louisville game will be an important answer to questions about his play size and speed.

While this declaration might seem unexpected to fans, particularly after a lost season, there are a lot of factors we do not know about. Feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board is confidential until a player chooses to reveal it, so Smith may have gotten advice from the DAB that encouraged him to leave school early, whether that was a better-than-expected grade or advice that his stock would not improve with another year in college. Unlike with the NBA Draft, deep mock NFL Drafts from respected sources are extremely rare at this point in time, so there’s really no further information for fans to go on.

Smith’s departure leaves the Tar Heels with an incredibly thin linebacking corps heading into 2018, with just Cole Holcomb and Jonathan Smith returning among players who played meaningful snaps at linebacker in 2017. The team has a few options, including Kayne Roberts and Johnathan Sutton, who were recruited as linebackers before converting to running back, rising redshirt freshman Jeremiah Gemmel, sophomore Dominique Ross, and a few others. The group is undeniably bare, however, and UNC fans will undoubtedly be watching Dax Hollifield’s recruitment even more closely than they had before. Hollifield would now be an unquestioned immediate starter should he choose to attend UNC.

We at Tar Heel Blog wish Smith the best of luck with the draft process and his future career, and will keep you all updated with further news of Smith’s journey after the NFL offseason begins.

You can see Smith’s farewell message here: