Specifically, it was running backs coach Eric Bieniemy that impressed Johnson.
"When he called me on the phone, he had a plan for me. He had an idea of who I was and what I can do," Johnson said. "The other teams that were calling were like, ‘Hey, you're the best guy available on our board.' I didn't want to be just another name on the board, I want to be a face, a player. I'm an athlete. There is more to me than just, ‘Hey, you ran fast, you're on the board, let's pick you now.' This was a team that I felt was a good organization, great people, and a place where I could fit and learn from some of the best running backs."
That depth at running back could make it hard for Johnson to see much playing time on offense, but he says there are some opportunities to earn his way on the field behind Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.
"They were not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘You're going to be our starting running back. There are things on third down – screens, draws – things that you can come and help us with. And then we know what you can do on special teams,'" Johnson said of his talk with Bieniemy. "(Special teams) is one of the things I take great pride in. Then, over time, I can work myself into this offense, and that was a very realistic plan that the other teams weren't so much saying."
Johnson may have to get used to taking a back seat on the offense. At Boise State, he started 38 of 49 games and finished his college career ranked third in school history with 753 carries and second with 4,174 rushing yards. His rushing yards ranked fourth in Western Athletic Conference history and he set the conference record with 58 rushing touchdowns, on more than Marshall Faulk in the early 1990s.
"He has been a productive player there (at Boise State)," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "… He is a very bright-eyed kid. Obviously he has skills running the football and he understands the passing game. Boise does a great job of throwing the football around. So he has done a good job.
Johnson is fully well aware that being behind Peterson and Taylor means sparse opportunities to contribute on offense, but he wants to learn from the best and push himself, he said.
"Use what you've got to make a living. Right now, I've got athletic ability and a lot of determination and heart. Right now, that fits in as a football player. I'm going to keep at this until … your body won't hold up or they kick me out of the league," he said.
Taylor is entering the final year of his contract and there have been indications that the Vikings would like to extend his contract. For now – and maybe well into the future – Johnson believes he can be a third-down back in the NFL.
"Oh, definitely. I feel I have the attributes to do anything in this league, but I will do whatever is necessary. Right now, that might be what this team needs, and whatever this team needs is what I'll be," he said. "I'm going to be on special teams – that's 100 percent for sure. If I'm running the ball or not, I will be on special teams. That's something I take great pride in, something I've wanted. There's not a lot of guys like that out there, but that's something I want to do and that's where I see myself on this team first."
Johnson's team-first attitude was cited in college as well, but that should come as no surprise. He says the Vikings and Boise State have one thing in common when looking for players.
"Take good people over great athletes. If you take a foundation of good people, you will succeed over those hard times because guys can lean on each other," he said. "If you have just a bunch of good athletes, they don't blend so well together, so when things get hard they look at each other and start fighting and calling names."
That's part of his small-school and small-conference attitude. He felt there was always something to prove to the football world when playing at Boise State, no matter how much success the school had.
"All through college, you took great pride in the little things because no one would give you credit for it. Everyone would say, ‘Oh, that was great, but …' It's one of those things where now you're here (in the NFL) and you're with those guys that were saying, ‘Well, you might be as good as so-and-so, but …' It's time to prove. We're all on the same field now. We're all on the same surface. There is no more ‘buts' allowed. We're all NFL players and who is the best?"
Johnson is hoping to prove he's at least one of those that belong on the team with a chance to compete.