The New Orleans Saints have signed the following players to practice squad contracts it was announced by Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis: S Johnathan Abram, WR Lynn Bowden Jr., LB Ryan Connelly, WR Shaquan Davis, OL Mark Evans II, DL Jack Heflin, DB Anthony Johnson, WR Jontre Kirklin, G Tommy Kraemer, DE Niko Lalos, RB Ellis Merriweather, T Storm Norton, LB Anfernee Orji, DE Kyle Phillips, LB Jaylon Smith and LB Ty Summers.
Abram, 5-11, 205, was originally a first round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders (27th overall) out of Mississippi State in 2019, who signed with New Orleans in the offseason. In four seasons with the Raiders (2019-2022), Green Bay Packers (2022) and Seattle Seahawks (2022), the former East Marion (Miss.) High School standout has played in 43 career regular season games with 36 starts and has recorded 256 tackles (162 solo), eight stops for loss, nine quarterback hits, three interceptions, 14 passes defensed, one fumble recovery, 11 special teams stops and one coverage fumble recovery.
Bowden, 6-1, 204, had three receptions for 40 yards, returned five punts for 43 yards and brought back three kickoffs for 61 yards in the 2023 preseason for the Saints, signing with the team at the end of the offseason. Originally drafted in the third round by Las Vegas in 2020 out of Kentucky, Bowden appeared in ten games and made four starts in his rookie campaign for Miami, finishing the season with 28 receptions for 211 yards along with nine rushing attempts for 32 yards. He also played in one game for New England in 2022. Playing in 39 games for Kentucky at quarterback, wide receiver and running back, as well as return duties, Bowden started 25 contests and finished with career marks of 38-of-79 passing (48.1 pct.) for 495 yards (6.3 avg.) and three touchdowns, 206 carries for 1,530 yards (7.4 avg.) and 13 touchdowns, 114 receptions for 1,303 yards (11.4 avg.) and six touchdowns, made 71 kickoff returns for 1,628 yards (22.9 avg.), and returned nine punts for 199 yards (22.1 avg.) and two touchdowns. His 4,660 career all-purpose yards ranked fifth in school history.
Connelly, 6-2, 234, was signed by the Saints in the offseason and recorded seven tackles (five solo), one sack, one stop for loss, one quarterback hit, one pass defense and one special teams tackle in two preseason contests. Originally a fifth round (143rd overall) draft pick by the New York Giants in 2019 out of Wisconsin, in four seasons with the Giants (2019) and Minnesota Vikings (2020-22), the Eden Prairie, Minn. native's appeared in 31 games with three starts with career totals of 21 tackles (11 solo), one sack, two interceptions, two passes defensed and nine special teams stops.
Davis, 6-5, 180, was a four-year letterman at South Carolina State. The Summerville, S.C. native enjoyed his finest season in 2022, when he made 45 catches for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns. In the preseason for the Saints, Davis caught seven passes for 101 yards (club-best 14.4 avg.).
Evans, 6-2, 295, who was originally signed by New Orleans as a free agent after the NFL Draft, was a four-year letterman and three-time all SWAC selection at left tackle at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Houston, Texas native received All-Conference honors in 2022 for the third consecutive season.
Heflin, 6-5, 305, is a second-year NFL veteran who signed with New Orleans this offseason after participating in their post-draft rookie minicamp. The Prophetstown, Ill. native has played in five career games with Green Bay (2021) and the New York Giants (2022) and has recorded one assisted tackle. In the spring of 2023, he was an All-XFL selection for the Houston Roughnecks. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Green Bay in 2021 out of Iowa, Heflin played his graduate season (2020) at Iowa, starting all eight games and recording 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack after playing his first three campaigns at Northern Illinois.
Johnson, 6-2, 205 was a was a four-year letterman at Louisville (2019-20) and Virginia (2021-22), In 2022, the Coconut Creek, Fla. native was one of five team captains and started all ten games at cornerback, where he finished tied for second in the ACC and 18th in the nation with 14 passes defensed. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Saints in 2023, he competed in training camp and the preseason.
Kirklin, 6-0, 184, was originally signed by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent out of LSU in 2022 and after a tenure on their practice squad, posted 15 receptions for 253 yards and four touchdowns for the XFL's Houston Roughnecks this spring. The Lutcher native finished the 2023 preseason with the Saints with nine receptions for 127 yards (14.1 avg.), five kickoff returns for 119 yards and two punt returns for nine yards. During his college career, Kirklin played 57 games with three starts over five seasons (2017-21) with the Tigers as a WR, QB and DB. He finished his collegiate career with 20 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns, added 13 carries for 67 yards and also threw for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 7-of-11 (63.6%) passing.
Kraemer, 6-6, 316, was originally signed by the Detroit Lions as a rookie free agent in 2021, out of Notre Dame. The Cincinnati native played in nine games with three starts for the Lions in 2021 (two at right guard, one at left guard) and did not allow a sack in his debut season. After spending the 2022 season on Injured Reserve, he competed in training camp with the Saints. Kraemer played four seasons for the Fighting Irish (2017-2020), starting 39-of-43 games played (27 at right guard and 12 at right tackle) and helped them earn two trips to the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Lalos, 6-5, 270, made an impression in the preseason, when his four sacks led the NFC and was tied for the NFL lead. Lalos' preseason followed a performance of 35 tackles, seven stops for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception for the XFL's Seattle Sea Dragons in the spring. The Akron, Ohio native spent the second half of the 2022 season on the Saints practice squad. Originally signed by the New York Giants in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of Dartmouth, Lalos played in six games in his rookie season and posted five tackles (two solo), one interception, one fumble recovery and one assisted special teams stop. He played in 24 games in three seasons for Dartmouth, recording 59 tackles (32 solo), including 17.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, nine passes defensed, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Merriweather, 6-2, 225, signed with the Saints after he participated in the team's rookie minicamp this after playing at the University of Massachusetts from 2020-22 and led New Orleans in rushing in the preseason with 73 yards, also catching eight passes for 48 yards with one touchdown. In 2022, Merriweather played in ten games for the Minutemen, carrying the ball 150 times for 575 yards as the team's leading rusher and was named to the Phil Steele All-Independent Team (second-team). In 2021, he carried 218 times for 1,138 yards with five touchdowns, to garner Phil Steele second-team All-Independent for the first time, as he was UMass' first 1,000-yard rusher in the FBS era. The Alpharetta, Ga. native transferred to UMass in 2020 from Garden City (Kan.) Community College
Norton, 6-7, 317, who spent the 2023 offseason and preseason with the Saints, originally entered the NFL signing with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Toledo. He has appeared in 36 games with 18 starts for the Minnesota Vikings (2018) and Los Angeles Chargers (2020-22). In 2022, Norton played in 12 games for the Chargers, seeing action in five contests at right tackle and left tackle.
Orji, 6-1, 230, is a Rockwall, Texas native, who was a four-year letterman at Vanderbilt, who led the Commodores in tackles for three straight seasons. In 2022 as a senior, he logged 81 tackles and returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown to capture second-team Phil Steele All-Southeastern Conference honors. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Saints in 2023, he competed in training camp and the preseason.
Phillips, 6-4, 277, was originally signed by the New York Jets as a rookie free agent in 2019, out of Tennessee. He joined the Saints at the start of training camp and returned an interception five yards to set up a game-winning field goal in the preseason opener vs. Kansas City. The Nashville native played in 29 games with eight starts for the Jets (2019-21) and has career totals of 68 tackles (44 solo), 2.5 sacks, 12 stops for loss and a pass defense. The fourth-year defensive lineman snared a roster spot out of the preseason for the Jets in 2019 and played in 15 games (four starts) and recorded 42 tackles, including a team-leading 18 for loss (coaches stats) and finished tied for seventh in the league among all rookies to go with 1.5 sacks. In 2021, Phillips returned to action from a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery suffered at midseason in 2020 and finished with 15 tackles, one sack and two stops for loss.
Smith, 6-2, 243, was originally selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round (34th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He spent the second half of the preseason with the Saints. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native has appeared in 87 regular season games with 69 starts for Dallas (2016-21), the Green Bay Packers (2021) and the New York Giants (2021-22), recording 704 tackles (470 solo), 11 sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown. Smith participated in the Pro Bowl in 2019, when he recorded a career-high 168 stops. In 2022, Smith appeared in 13 regular season games with 11 starts for the Giants and recorded 88 tackles (46 solo), one sack and one fumble recovery. In two playoff contests, he led the Giants with 21 tackles, second in postseason play in the NFL through the first two weeks.
Summers, 6-1, 241, is a four-year NFL veteran who was signed by the Saints from the Jacksonville practice squad in Week 16 of the 2022 season and posted two coverage stops. Originally selected by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round (226th overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft out of TCU, the San Antonio, Texas native has played in 52 regular season games with one start, posting career totals of 31 tackles (23 solo), one pass defense, 27 special teams stops and one coverage fumble recovery. In four postseason games for Green Bay from 2019-20, he posted two solo tackles and three coverage stops.