He might think he knows, but the Tennessee Titans running back really has no idea. James is a once-in-a-generation talent who faces a level of scrutiny that's unmatched in sports today. Yes, much of that was self-created with "The Decision" and all the nonsense that followed, but James performs under a microscope with a non-existent margin for error.
That got us thinking: If Johnson isn't the NFL equivalent of LeBron James, who is?
First, the requirements:
1) You must be viewed not merely as a great talent, but as a transformational one. The hype should begin before you ever play a down in the NFL.
2) There must be an inciting moment or controversy that raises the stakes considerably. It's a gut-check moment that puts everything into question.
3) Putting up gaudy statistics and earning personal accolades is expected. Anything less than leading your team to a championship is considered failure.
Tom Brady was the first name that came to mind, a two-time MVP whose season always seems hollow if the New England Patriots aren't hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the end. But Brady was unheralded coming out of college, a sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He blew out his knee in the 2008 opener, but other than some early foreboding reports, no one expected less of him when he returned. Besides, Brady has three titles to James' none. It doesn't work.
How about Peyton Manning? Came into the league with NFL DNA and sky-high expectations. He owns four MVP awards, though his teams always seem to fall short (with one notable exception). His succession of neck surgeries and the subsequent free-agent circus in March are strong inciting incidents. But will he be assailed by critics if the Denver Broncos don't win the Super Bowl this year? Perhaps, though we don't see it.
But then there's Michael Vick. When he was taken with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, Vick was seen as an evolutionary Randall Cunningham. His huge road win over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in the 2002 playoffs was similar to James' systematic assassination of the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.
We all know the controversial moment is covered. Vick was at the height of his powers with the Atlanta Falcons when he was arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for funding an illegal dogfighting ring.
Vick flopped with the Philadelphia Eagles' "dream team" in 2011 and was roasted for it -- though it could be argued Andy Reid and his staff took more heat. He said this week that the 2012 Eagles are the best team he's been a part of, unnecessarily raising expectations the same way James did (on a much grander scale) with that absurd welcome party.
All that said, Vick simply doesn't face the same level of pressure as James. But he's closer than anyone else in the NFL today.