Ranking tackles isn’t easy. Far too often, we lazily stick with the status quo when assessing a position in which statistics aren’t of utmost importance. But I looked back on my notes from the 2010 season and did some in-depth research in order to produce a fresh look at the top 10 offensive tackles in the game.

Previous rankings
Quarterbacks (May 9)
Running backs (May 13)
Receivers (May 17)
Tight ends (June 1)

1. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

The No. 1 overall pick in 2008 has been an elite left tackle since the day he arrived in South Florida. He’s already become a lifetime Pro Bowler and joined the All-Pro club in 2010. Technically, his third season was probably his worst, but Long was still quite dominant despite being nagged by a shoulder injury.

2. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

Thomas’ career path has been similar to Long’s. Drafted third overall in 2007, he’s been a force in Cleveland from the get-go. Like Long, he became an All-Pro in his third season, and he’s become a better run blocker in recent seasons.

3. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets

The top offensive tackle selected in the 2006 draft (noticing a pattern here?) has flown lower under the radar than Long and Thomas, but Ferguson and his cohorts have done a phenomenal job keeping a young quarterback out of the dirt. The guy isn’t versatile and has the odd dud performance, but he’s generally one of the most consistent and dominant tackles in the game.

4. Donald Penn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After signing a massive contract extension prior to training camp, the monster-sized left tackle lived up to expectations with a breakout season in 2010. Nobody talks about him, but Penn was easily the best left tackle in the NFC last year. He doesn’t dazzle you with his athleticism, but he kept Josh Freeman relatively clean while paving the way for a big season from LeGarrette Blount.

5. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals

Like many of his teammates, Whitworth is remarkably inconsistent. If it weren’t for that and his lack of prowess in the running game, he’d probably be significantly higher on this list. But when he’s on his game, he’s almost unbeatable. Considering that the Bengals didn’t surrender a single sack in the final three games of 2010, the 29-year-old also gets some points for finishing the season strong. He might be the hottest tackle in the league right now.

6. Marcus McNeill, San Diego Chargers

After missing the first five games of 2010 because of a holdout, McNeill completely changed the Chargers’ offense over the final three months of the year. He was a force on Philip Rivers’ blind side, surrendering just one sack in an abbreviated campaign.

7. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

Clady recovered from offseason knee surgery in time to start all 16 games in 2010. He wasn’t always the Clady we saw dominate in 2008 and 2009, but by the end of the season he had pretty much returned to his All-Pro form. I’m expecting the 24-year-old to climb this list in 2011.

8. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers

Gross gave up a few more sacks and hurries than I’d like, but he didn’t have a lot to work with. The 30-year-old has been one of the best tackles in the league for eight years running. He’s a leader, he’s consistent and he’s a superb run blocker, too.

9. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams

I’m projecting a bit here, but the rookie did a great job keeping Sam Bradford healthy while protecting his blind side in all 16 games in 2010.

10. Kareem McKenzie, New York Giants

McKenzie is the only right tackle to make the list — sorry, Marshal Yanda — because in addition to being a stellar run blocker he’s also an underrated pass protector. The veteran might be on the verge of decline, but he has a spot on this list so long as he continues to allow next to no sacks.