So, he took up a job on a fishing boat in Key West, Florida, reeling in mahi mahi to make ends meet.
In his first career start, Johnson looked composed and explosive as he helped a depleted Browns team — also missing starting quarterback Baker Mayfield — to a victory which halted a two-game losing streak.
And when Johnson was told about the tweet, he looked stunned, saying: “LeBron? Man, that’s my favorite basketball player; I’m not going to lie to you … That’s amazing! LeBron James, appreciate it man. That means a lot. Wow!”
It is the culmination of a long journey for the running back, who also worked as a personal trainer before signing for the Alliance of American Football league, where he finished second in the league in rushing and scrimmage yards while with the Orlando Apollo in 2019.
Although he was initially signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2019, he had predominately featured as a kick returner on special teams.
He appeared in all 16 games in 2020, whilst also filling in where needed as a running back, posting career highs in carries (33) and rushing yards (166).
But it is in week seven this season where Johnson really exploded onto the scene with the Browns needing a big performance with their stars on the sideline.
“It’s unexplainable. I wanted to celebrate but I didn’t know what to do. It’s been a long journey,” said Johnson as he reflected on how his fortunes have changed since 2018.
The victory means the Browns remained alive in the AFC playoff picture, while it is the Broncos’ fourth straight defeat.
‘My pride is hurt’
For Broncos linebacker Von Miller, it was perhaps an even more painful defeat given the talking he did beforehand.
“And if I do that then we will win … If I can play well and I can get sacks and I can find a way to disrupt the game, we’ll win. The pressure is on me to play well.
“I don’t know who the tackle is that I’m going against, but I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. And the other guy too, on the other side. I’m going to play extremely well and make plays for my team. I’m going to set us up and win this game for sure.”
However in the disappointing performance, Miller was forced to leave after injuring his ankle.
And the Super Bowl 50 MVP said his “pride is hurt more than anything.”
“We did some good things in the half and I felt like I was gonna do some great stuff in the second half — but I got hurt.”