UNC linebacker Andre Smith to enter NFL draft

UNC’s Andre Smith, left, lines up against California on Sept. 2.
UNC’s Andre Smith, left, lines up against California on Sept. 2. cseward@newsobserver.com

North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, he announced on Twitter on Sunday.

Smith, who missed the final 10 games in the 2017 season with a knee injury, was one of UNC’s top defenders when healthy.

The 6-0, 240-pound middle linebacker from Jacksonville, Fla., had 113 tackles, which ranked seventh in the ACC, as a sophomore in 2016. He had 53 stops and an interception in 2015.

“Thank you Carolina!” Smith wrote on his Twitter account. “Thank you for taking a chance on a kid from Duval county that everybody said was too small I will forever bleed Carolina Blue!”

Smith is known as much for his confidence as his tackling ability. He made waves before UNC’s game with Louisville this season when he predicted the Tar Heels defense was “just going to stop anything” that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson tried to do.

Jackson led the Cardinals to a 47-35 win but Smith played well in the game with 11 tackles before he suffered a knee injury. In two games this season, Smith had 21 tackles and an interception.

“Andre is an outstanding young man and we wish him the best as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said in a statement released by the school. “He was a leader for our program who we will miss both on and off the field, but our staff was fortunate to have the opportunity to coach him for three seasons.”

Cole Holcomb, who led the team with 93 tackles, and Jonathan Smith filled in for Smith after his injury, and both are expected back next season.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio