Now, the 26-year-old is being paid as such.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Saturday that Johnson and the Cardinals agreed to terms on a three-year, $39 million extension that includes $30 million guaranteed. The deal can be worth a maximum of $45 million.
Johnson piled up more than 1,000 yards from the line of scrimmage as a rookie, but that was just the start of things to come. In his second season, he had 1,239 rushing yards, 80 receptions for 879 yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Just like that, the 6'1", 224-pound playmaker went from the No. 86 overall pick to First Team All-Pro in less than two years.
That promising start to his career led to extraordinary expectations heading into the 2017 season. However, his season came to an end in Week 1 when he fractured his wrist and required surgery. By the time April rolled around, he was back to "100 percent" and medically cleared as a result.
Although his injury may have given the team cause to pause, the running back made it known in mid-August that he was "encouraged" something would get done.
"I think that's what it is—I didn't play," Johnson said, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. "I didn't play last year. I was hoping my production from my second year and what I did my first year would help out, but the NFL is what have you done for me lately, so hopefully I can prove it once the season starts."
Johnson's rookie contract was set to expire following the 2018 season. But given he has proved he can help the Cardinals move the football in a variety of ways, locking him up was a priority in the desert.
The fourth-year running back, whose rookie deal put his 2018 salary at $1.9 million, made it clear early in the offseason that his focus was on getting healthy and then getting acclimated in new coach Steve Wilks' system, not on a contract.
"No, (it's not weighing on my mind) not at all," Johnson told reporters in April when asked if an extension was his focus. "Especially with the injury, I've been so focused on the wrist and getting back. Now with new coaches, new players, new teammates, I'm a lot more focused on that."
Now that the business side is taken care of, he only has to worry about playing football.
Arizona may not know how much longer Larry Fitzgerald will play, but the team at least knows Johnson will be in a Cardinals uniform for years to come.